The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Fiskadoro, the adolescent boy, nearly thirteen, is the central figure in the novel. His story, like many stories that focus on adolescents, is a rite of passage into awareness, a coming of age into a whole new way of life. Fiskadoro is a precocious boy who does not want to be like the other men in a village made up primarily of men who fish and of women who cook the fish that the men catch. Fiskadoro thus seeks out the help of Cheung, who agrees to teach him to play the clarinet. Fiskadoro believes that music will magically pour forth from his clarinet, but this is not the case until the end, the moment when Fiskadoro is reborn.

Fiskadoro’s passage into a heightened state of awareness takes him on a journey into the darkness of the swamps, where the Quraysh worship the incarnation of the god Mohammed, who has manifested himself in the guise of a two-headed snake. Among the Quraysh, Fiskadoro’s transformation from a boy into a man takes on both physical and symbolic implications. When he reappears later in his village, staggering and drugged, he is truly no longer “like other men.” His memory of who he is and where he has been has been completely erased. Fiskadoro is now history-less. He does not even remember his own mother. He is now ready for—and prepared to be born into—the future.

Grandmother Wright’s passage out of Vietnam in 1974 parallels Fiskadoro’s reawakening into a world that is hard to call his own. She has suffered...

(The entire section is 538 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Anthony Terrence Cheung

Anthony Terrence Cheung, a musician and small-scale cultivator of sugarcane. As the “manager” of the Miami Symphony Orchestra and a leading member of the Twicetown Society for Science, he is at the center of the two organizations devoted to the conservation of civilization in Twicetown (formerly Key West) during the period of the Quarantine. He hopes that he and his aged grandmother will live to see the end of the Quarantine, when the Cubans will sail north to reestablish contact with the inhabitants of the radiation-polluted remnants of the United States. At the climax of the book, after the Miami Symphony Orchestra has given its belated first performance to an audience of “Israelites”—dreadlocked worshipers of the god Bob Marley—he sees an approaching ship that might signal the end of the Quarantine.

Marie Wright

Marie Wright, Anthony Cheung’s grandmother, perhaps the oldest living person in the world. In her youth, she lived in Saigon and was fortunate to escape from the city when it fell in 1974. She lives almost entirely in her memories, and when she accompanies her grandson to the climactic concert, the terrible experiences she underwent after the helicopter taking her away from Saigon crashed into the sea come flooding back into her mind. The recapitulated moment of her rescue overlaps Cheung’s vision of the ship that might represent a new salvation.


(The entire section is 557 words.)