In July 2002 the narrator?we assume it is the author?visits Vietnam with his wife. On June 11, 1963, before the escalation of the Vietnam War, a monk famously sat down at a crossroads in Ho Chi Minh City (then Saigon) and set himself alight. Suicide by self-immolation was the monk's way of protesting against the South Vietnamese government's oppression of Buddhism. The narrator could never forget the photograph of the event he saw in a newspaper while working (illegally) as a manual laborer in New York. Now, 39 years later, he is drawn to the place it occurred and begins his own investigation into "Monk X," with just a few sparse clues to go on. He wants to discover what drove the monk to this terrifying act of resistance and how he gained the courage to see it through. He visits the temples where Monk X served in Ho Chi Minh City as well as his birthplace, eliciting information with a mixture of spoken English and written Chinese characters. Gradually he builds up a picture of the man: Thich Quang Duc, a high-ranking priest who built some 31 temples before his suicide at the age of 66. Duc was said to have woken with a smile on his lips on the morning of his death. He was subsequently cremated, but his heart, which remained unconsumed by the flames, is still preserved as a sacred relic known as the "eternal heart." As his two-month quest comes to an end, the narrator himself sits down in the place where Duc committed his final act. This is the moving story of a man struggling to find something in which to believe in a post-9.11 world.