Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 853
Matías Alvear (mah-TEE-ahs ahl-veh-AHR), a telegrapher with the government postal service and patriarch of the Alvear family. Mildly anticlerical, he shuns politics, preferring to go to the Neutral Cafe for games of dominoes with his friends. His involvement with the tragic events of the Spanish Civil War mainly concerns the telegrams he sends or receives. Originally from Madrid, he has to learn Catalan or be transferred.
Carmen Elgazu (ehl-GAH-sew), his wife, a Basque. She is deeply religious. She ensures that her three children receive a strong religious upbringing and is aided by the priests who advise her, especially Mosén Alberto. She deplores the secularizing tendencies of the Spanish Republic but is not active politically.
Ignacio Alvear (eeg-NAH-see-oh), their oldest son, the central figure of the novel. He enters the seminary as a boarding student but after a few years decides he does not want to become a priest. He begins working as an office boy in the Arús Bank, and associates with his coworkers. After he passes the examinations for his high school studies (undertaken at night), he is promoted. While on vacation at the seashore, he meets his first sweetheart, Ana Maria, but on his return to Gerona he fails to answer her letters and becomes involved with the prostitute Canela, who gives him a venereal disease. His recovery from this illness leads him to make a thorough confession and to be reconciled with his family. He later becomes romantically involved with Marta Martínez de Soria, the major’s daughter, who is a Falangist like his classmate Mateo Santos. Although Ignacio is involved in a minor riot, his participation is instigated by his anarchist cousin José from Madrid, and he remains uninvolved in politics.
César Alvear (SEH-sahr), Ignacio’s younger brother, who takes Ignacio’s place as a seminarian. He is overly ascetic, is in weak health, and has to be monitored by Mosén Alberto lest he engage in too many privations. During the summers, he works with the poor in the slum district, barbering the sick and old and teaching the children who are too poor to afford school. During the general strike, he is forced to leave the seminary because the peasants will not supply the school at Collell if the seminarians remain. He returns to Gerona. When he tries to resume teaching the children in the poor quarters, he is actively discouraged by the residents. He is executed by the Communists after the military insurrection in Gerona is suppressed.
Pilar Alvear (pee-LAHR), the youngest of the Alvear family. She grows into young womanhood and becomes the sweetheart of Mateo Santos, who is a classmate of Ignacio and the son of the tobacconist who is Matías’ partner in dominoes. Mateo later organizes a Falangist cell.
Julio Garcia (HEW-lee-oh gahr-SEE-ah), the chief of police in Gerona and an important figure in the local Masonic lodge. He takes a sardonic view of the political changes in Spain. He joins the movement for autonomy of Catalonia, for which he temporarily loses his job and is even threatened with execution. When the Popular Front wins the election of 1936, he is restored as police chief. He accepts the surrender of Major Martínez de Soria after the unsuccessful coup and protects the prisoners from the Communists and anarchists.
Dr. Relken, a German-Jewish archaeologist. He is the authorial mouthpiece for addressing the shortcomings of Spain through foreign eyes. He is beaten up by Mateo and other Falangist youths.
Major Martínez de Soria
Major Martínez de Soria (mahr-TEE-nehs de SOH-ree-ah), a veteran of the African war. He becomes the military commander of Gerona after the senior major is killed while suppressing the Catalan autonomy movement. He and his daughter Marta frequently ride their horses in the city. Although he is an autocrat and a martinet, he is a deeply patriotic monarchist and leads the insurrection against the Popular Front.
Cosme Vila (KOHS-meh VEE-lah), who works with Ignacio at the bank. He quits to become head of the local Communist Party. He organizes bombings and executions as a way of cold-bloodedly gaining control.
David Pol, a Socialist, a teacher, and a moderate. He and his wife, Olga, are made commissioners of education for Gerona after the Popular Front victory.
Olga Sol, David’s wife, a modern woman with short hair who smokes cigarettes and wears slacks. Because she was one of Ignacio’s teachers, she agrees to shelter Marta after the military insurrection fails and the families of the participants are imprisoned.
Mosén Alberto (moh-SEHN ahl-BEHR-toh), a conservative priest, the spiritual guide of the Alvear family. Curator of the Diocesan Museum, he is able to flee into exile when the Communist executions begin.
Mosén Francisco, a young, reform-minded priest who is able to reach Ignacio and guide his spiritual life. During the executions, he disguises himself as a militiaman and gives those killed the last rites of the church.