Characters

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

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It is unclear exactly who the narrator of this book is, as he or she is never named. It could be one narrator throughout, or there could be different narrators for each section. Either way, it is interesting that the narrator(s) finds certain continuities across all four of the men whose lives and histories they investigate.

Dr. Henry Selwyn is estranged from his wife. He seems quite sensitive and gentle, loves horses (which he rescues), and loves his garden. He remembers only one particularly fulfilling relationship he had with an alpine guide named Johannes Naegeli. He says that "never in his life, neither before nor later, did he feel as good as he did then, in the company of that man." His relationship with his wife, obviously, is strained, perhaps because of something in his history. He confesses to being homesick, and he talks about his childhood home in Lithuania. He kills himself by shooting a gun into his mouth.

Paul Bereyter is an elementary school teacher in Germany. The narrator learns from Paul's obituary that the Third Reich would not let him teach, because he was one quarter Jewish. He was an unorthodox teacher who abhorred hypocrisy in all forms. Lucy Landau, Paul's friend in later life, is the one who tells the narrator all about Paul. He eventually returned to Germany because he was, at once (according to Lucy) incredibly attached to his homeland, while, at the same time, loathed it. Lucy is convinced that Paul would have been happy to see it all destroyed, and yet he could not stay away. He seems to have felt a profound sense of conflict about this, and it, perhaps, helps to account for his suicide.

Ambros Adelwarth is the great uncle of the narrator of his section. He worked as a valet for Cosmo Solomon, the son of a wealthy Jewish banker in New York, and they may have had a sexual relationship as well. After many years of traveling together, Ambros had to commit Cosmo to a sanatorium where Cosmo eventually died. Ambros had a very good memory, but as he told more of his stories to his family, he became very depressed and committed himself to the same sanatorium where Cosmo died. He readily submits to shock therapy, which seems to have been his way of ending his own life and, perhaps, destroying the memories that were painful to him.

Max Ferber lived in Manchester, England, having been sent by his parents in 1939; they were supposed to follow him but were killed in 1941. Ferber was an artist, and he had terrible anxiety regarding leaving home and being among strangers. He recalls his childhood in Munich—how his parents didn't talk, in front of him, about what was happening in the country, how the family didn't discuss his grandmother's apparent suicide, how his father had to sign over his business to an Aryan partner—and also shares the memoirs his mother wrote before she was taken away.

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