Eliezer, the narrator, a journalist of Eastern European birth. After losing his entire family in the Holocaust, Eliezer has immigrated to Paris, then to New York. He is haunted by his past, by the guilt of having survived, and by a deeply felt responsibility to bear witness on behalf of the dead. His mind is flooded with dreams, images, symbols, and memories, especially of his grandmother, whom he loved devotedly. He finds it impossible to live in the present: He is cynical, detached, and inexpressive. When he does speak, it is often in metaphors, philosophical assertions, and enigmas. He has been drawn to Kathleen since the moment they met, but ultimately he pities her faithfulness and her need to be deceived. Similarly, he feels disdain for Dr. Russel’s inability to comprehend despair. Eliezer is weary of the suffering of life and longs to encounter death; the accident he survives is an expression of that longing.
Kathleen, a charming young woman who is Eliezer’s lover. Kathleen believes strongly in the omnipotence of love. From an affluent background, she is confident and decisive and not accustomed to losing battles. She is blind with illusions about the goodness of the world and cannot fathom Eliezer’s obsession with the past. Through their tumultuous and often cruel affair, she learns about suffering. Later, after he has left her, she is spiritually deadened by marriage to a man for whom...
(The entire section is 594 words.)