Qasim, the protagonist, a tribal Kohistani from the Himalayan mountains. Qasim is unlike his fellow Pakistanis on the plains: His skin is lighter, he is taller, and his facial features are sharper. The greatest contrast lies in his traditions, especially his concept of honor. After the deaths of his wife and children, he moved to the plains but never adjusted or was entirely accepted there. He continues to long for the mountains where he was born until his romanticized memories turn into an obsession, which eventually destroys the person he loves. Although described as a simple man, Qasim develops into a complex character, and he emerges as a sensitive, loving, and generous man who is misguided by his perverse sense of honor.
Zaitoon, Qasim’s adopted daughter. After her parents are killed in the partition riots of 1947, three-year-old Zaitoon is rescued by Qasim, who rears her with the assistance of friends. Through most of the novel, Zaitoon, who grows into a beautiful young woman, remains in the background, a sketchily developed character who represents the facelessness of females in Pakistani society. Once she finds herself in a situation of conflict, however, she reacts, draws on a well of strength not revealed before, and develops into a fully realized character.
Nikka, Qasim’s friend. Making good use of his powerful wrestler’s body and his knack for opportunism, Nikka promotes himself and succeeds as a businessman and political operative in the newly established Pakistan. He is a comic character without scruples and serves as a contrast to his humorless, honor-bound friend Qasim.
Carol, an American married to a Pakistani. In some ways, she typifies women in cross-cultural marriages. At times arrogant and self-centered, frequently bored, and sometimes insensitive to the society into which she has married, the blonde and attractive Carol is far more than a stereotype as she struggles to find her place in a strange world. Her life and attitudes stand in sharp contrast to the way Zaitoon lives and reacts.
Sakhi, Zaitoon’s tribal husband. Although handsome in an unrefined way, Sakhi is depicted as an ignorant, cruel, and primitive man who follows a strict code of honor without thinking. At times, his humanity shines through the crude façade.