Japanese writer Endo (The Final Martyrs, 1994, etc.) continues his exploration of faith and anomie--in a deceptively simple and well-told story of spiritual inquiry that movingly explores all the big questions. The opening pages briefly introduce four people who will shortly, for varying reasons, join a Japanese tour-group travelling to India: Isobe, a businessman whose deceased wife, believing she would ``be reborn somewhere in this world,'' made him promise he would look for her; Mitsuko, a volunteer at the dead woman's hospital, who is troubled by her own past and her obsession with a former classmate; retired industrialist Kiguchi, still haunted by wartime memories of Burma's notorious Highway of Death; and Numanda, a gentle writer of children's books who wants to repay his debt to the bird that saved his life when he was desperately ill. The book investigates the role religion plays in contemporary Japan, where relatives attending a funeral politely question the Buddhist priest conducting the service, while ``not one of them really believed anything the priest was saying.'' As the trip gets under way, more disquiets are explored: Isobe can't forget how he ignored his wife when she was alive; Mitsuko hungers for love but can't abandon her cynicism; Kiguchi recalls a fellow veteran who saved his life by eating human flesh but then drank himself to death trying to forget what he had done; and Numanda muses on the central role nature has played in his life. The four finally experience their epiphanies on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi, where the old and afflicted come to die and the faithful immerse themselves in the river. In this richly detailed setting, Endo offers a faith that, using the river as metaphor, comfortingly blends all the great religions together. Conflicts a bit too neatly resolved, but saved from mawkishness by strong and original characters.