The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Some characters are vividly drawn, such as Zosia, whose amber hair and high spirits charm the child Maciek, whereas others are little more than names. The officious and curious individuals in the boarding houses where Tania and Maciek stay remind one of the ever-present danger of exposure. The peasants introduce Maciek and Tania to hard life on a farm. Though each character plays key roles in Maciek’s journey, most of the characters have a ghostly quality as they pass in and out of the narrator’s memory.

Maciek is the narrator and one of the novel’s two principal characters. When the novel opens, he is in his fifties, reads the classics, and avoids discussing the Holocaust with others. Privately, he pores over accounts of the torture of political prisoners, calling himself a “voyeur of evil.” In his narration, he shows little emotion, whether he is describing an erotic experience with Zosia or horrific scenes of war. The flatness of his emotional range suggests that the trauma of his childhood has so benumbed him that he is incapable of feeling strong emotion.

Tania is Maciek’s maternal aunt. When the Nazis arrive in Poland, her principal aim is to save her nephew from the Germans. Beautiful, headstrong, well educated, and highly intelligent, she becomes increasingly heroic as danger mounts, sometimes using her considerable sexual appeal to win favors from those, such as Reinhard, who can help her evade capture. Her every move,...

(The entire section is 485 words.)