During the 1930s, Walter Faber, who works at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, meets an art student Hanna. The two become lovers, and one day Hanna reveals that she is pregnant. Faber asks her to marry him, but she hesitates. Faber receives an offer by UNESCO to work in Baghdad and he accepts it; he and Hanna split up. Before his departure, Faber asks his friend Joachim to take care of Hanna, and Hanna agrees to abort their child.
In spring 1957, Faber recounts the events of his travels in America. On a flight from New York to Mexico, his plane makes a forced landing in the desert. During the following stay he meets the German Herbert, who turns out to be the brother of Joachim, Faber's friend. Faber had not heard from his friend since 1936. Faber decides to accompany Herbert, who is on his way to visiting his brother. After an odyssey through the wilderness, they reach Joachim's plantation. But Joachim has hanged himself. Herbert decides to stay behind and manage the plantation.
Faber returns to New York City, but meets up with his married mistress, Ivy. Looking to escape their relationship, Faber takes an unplanned cruise to Europe. On this journey, he meets the young woman Sabeth, with whom he falls in love. He proposes to Sabeth at the end of the journey, but she is traveling with a male friend. Faber and Sabeth meet again in Paris and Faber decides to go on vacation and accompany Sabeth on a road trip through Europe, where they also start a sexual relationship. Faber even calls the trip their "honymoon".
Because of a foreboding, he asks Sabeth for the name of her mother: Hanna. Faber still hopes that Hanna has aborted their child, but it turns out soon that Sabeth is his daughter. In Greece, where Hanna now lives, a poisonous snake bites Sabeth. She falls backwards after seeing Walter come naked out of the ocean, and dies later in a hospital.
Stricken by grief and stomach cancer, Faber realizes the beauty he has missed and finds redemption in Hanna. He dies knowing she will never leave Athens and their daughter's grave.