Santiago Zavala (sahn-tee-AH-goh sah-VAH-lah), also known as Skinny and Superbrain, who is progressively transformed from the favorite son into an aspiring Communist and finally into a columnist in a dead-end newspaper job. He is the novel’s protagonist, and much of the narrative is rendered in his voice and from his perspective. He is a disillusioned intellectual and self-disinherited son of the bourgeoisie who is determined to forge an authentic existence. When he is unable to break with his past, however, he slowly sinks into despair and cynicism. His preoccupation throughout the novel is with how both the nation and the individual have been betrayed by the same degrading and corrupt political forces.
Ambrosio Pardo (ahm-BROH-see-oh PAHR-doh), a zambo (part black and part Indian), first a chauffeur for Santiago’s father, then a worker at a dog pound. His particular mixture of blood carries an implicit tension that is externalized in the novel. He is both an innocent victim of Peru’s social order and a victimizer who adapts to a corrupt system to survive. Ambrosio’s inability to break the social, political, and economic bonds that shackle him illustrates one of the novel’s major themes: how society, especially a politically corrupt society, can...
(The entire section is 598 words.)