Amabelle, although relatively naïve, is careful and resourceful, and she knows her place. She still grieves for her parents, but she loves Sebastien—a very quiet, limited love that they both live for, although they are seldom together. After her arrival at the Haitian tent clinic, where she is surrounded by wounded, she sees her reflection in the tin ceiling and cannot tell which face is hers. She has lost her former identity; her face, like her life, has changed completely.
The Dominican characters represent different facets of their country. Sheltered Valencia, of pure Spanish extraction, chooses to overlook her husband’s negative qualities, although subconsciously she suspects he will some day leave her. The mestizo Pico, raised in poverty, takes pride in his marriage into a good family. He admires the successful Trujillo and hopes some day to become president himself. Driving carelessly in his haste to join his wife after the birth of twins, he inadvertently kills Joël, Sebastien’s fellow worker, but refuses to search for the body. To Pico, the Haitian’s life is of no importance, although Don Ignacio, who accompanies him, feels shock and guilt at Joël’s death. Devoted to tradition yet constantly questioning it, the old gentleman is troubled by a conscience that the others ignore.
Generalissimo Trujillo, a historical figure who is never seen directly, looms over the whole novel. He sets the story in motion; he is Pico’s inspiration, the cruel scourge of the Haitians, and a man so powerful that even the Dominicans dare not speak out against him. His thirty-one-year rule will leave an indelible mark on the island of Hispaniola.