Louise Kahan, also known as Annette Hollander Sinclair, a popular writer of women’s fiction. She is the former wife of Oscar Kahan and the mother of a fifteen-year-old daughter, Kay. When World War II breaks out, Louise works as a war correspondent and writes about anti-Semitism and the problems of women while resolving the nature of her continued involvement with her former husband.
Daniel Balaban, a child of immigrant Jewish parents living in the Bronx. He trains Japanese-language officers and works as a cryptologist deciphering codes in Japanese.
Jacqueline Lévy-Monot, known by her Jewish name, Yakova, and as Jacqueline Porell, whose identity she assumes in order to disguise her Jewish heritage. Using the name Gingembre, she escorts Jewish children over the Pyrenees to escape capture by the Germans. As a concentration camp victim, she takes part in the death march from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen to Magdenburg and survives to “make the past walk through the present.”
Abra, a graduate student at Columbia University and the lover of Oscar Kahan, whom she follows to London as a member of the Office of Strategic Services. Increasingly upset in her role of compliant mistress, she asks what women want in a relationship with another person and in terms of their own self-identity.
Naomi, who is twelve years old at the beginning of the novel. She becomes Nadine Siegel when she is sent to the United States as the adopted daughter of her Aunt Rose and Uncle Morris. Her twin sister, Rivka, and her mother die in a concentration camp. Her father, Lapin, is killed on July 20, 1944, in Montagne Noire and is declared a hero of the Resistance movement. Raped by Leib, her friend Trudi’s husband, she becomes pregnant with his child. Ari Katz, her future husband, meets Naomi on her return to France as the novel ends with the words “The End of One Set of Troubles Is But the Beginning of Another.”
Bernice Coates, the unmarried daughter of Professor Coates. Her life before the war consisted of taking care of her widowed father. She joins the Army Air Corps as a pilot. Following an unrewarding affair with her brother’s friend and lover, Zach, she falls in love with another woman. After the war, she assumes the identity of Harry Edward Munster, a former captain in the Army Air Corps, in order to find a job and live with Flo.
Jeff Coates, the artistic brother of Bernice, who works with guerrilla and sabotage groups as a member of the Jewish Resistance in France, where he is known as Vendôme. He becomes Jacqueline’s lover but takes his own life when he is captured by the Milice.
Ruthie Siegel, who works in a plant, attends school at night, and earns an undergraduate degree before enrolling in graduate school to pursue a career in social work. After the war, she marries her fiancé, Murray, and becomes Mrs. Feldstein.
Duvey Siegel, Ruthie’s brother. He works on tankers during the war. A skirt chaser who plays up to Naomi when home on leave, he drowns after a U-boat attack on his ship.
Murray Feldstein, who enlists in the Marines and, before coming home and marrying Ruthie, kills the commanding officer who had insulted and abused him because he is Jewish.