Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 755
The Guest, the narrator of the story, a forty-year-old writer. He returns to the town of his birth, after the destruction of his home in Israel, in an effort to put together the fragmented pieces of his life and his religious faith. He finds the town ruined by continuous pogroms that have caused many to flee and by extreme poverty among those who remained. He undertakes the responsibility of heading the Beit Midrash (the house of study) and finds in that self-imposed duty a reconnection with the Almighty and joy in life. He is both generous and stingy, gregarious and solitary, responsible and lazy. At the end of the novel, he prepares to reunite with his wife and children and return to Israel.
Daniel Bach, a skeptic whose personal misfortunes have destroyed his faith that the Almighty is concerned with the suffering of his people. While he served in the army, his family moved from place to place seeking sustenance, and although he returned from the war uninjured, he soon lost one leg trying to board a moving train. In spite of the opposition of their religious beliefs, he and the Guest become close friends.
Reb Hayim (hah-YEEM), who in his youth as the scholarly son of a great rabbi attains renown as a wise man. He becomes proud and vain, ignoring his four daughters and treating his wife as a maidservant. After serving in the army and spending many years in a prisoners’ camp, he returns to his hometown a transformed person. Utterly humble and self-effacing, he performs the menial tasks of the Beit Midrash and gives his wages to the widow of Hanoch, whose fatherless children he teaches the Torah. At his death, he is called a saint.
Yeruham Freeman, a day laborer who holds a festering grudge against the Guest, whose resettlement in Israel inspired him to follow. He is shamefully expelled from the country for engaging in communist activities; after returning to his hometown, he marries the innkeeper’s daughter. Eventually, he and the Guest become fast friends. As the Guest departs for Israel, he places the key to the Beit Midrash into the hand of Freeman’s infant son.
Rachel Zommer, the innkeeper’s younger daughter. Beautiful and independent, she marries Yeruham and gives birth to the first child, a son, to be born in the town of Szibucz for several years.
Dr. Jacob Milch
Dr. Jacob Milch, called Kuba, a boyhood friend of the Guest who, after attending the university, returned to Szibucz to minister to the poor. The absence of an air of superiority and his modest fees earn for him contempt rather than gratitude. When the Guest’s money runs out, he goes to live with Dr. Milch.
Erela “Hannah” Bach
Erela “Hannah” Bach, Daniel’s daughter. Betrothed to Yeruham Freeman, who abandons her to marry Rachel, she is a plain-looking children’s Hebrew teacher, an argumentative rationalist who scoffs at matters of faith. At the end of the novel, she marries Dr. Milch, and they prepare to resettle in Israel.
Nissan Zommer, the owner of the inn where the Guest lodges. A quiet man, he rejoices in the commandments, though he follows them imperfectly.
Mrs. Zommer, the innkeeper’s wife. Unobtrusive in her kindness and concern, she prepares special vegetarian dishes for the Guest and worries about his comfort. Courageous and durable, she managed to keep food in her children’s mouths through the hardest of times.
Babtchi, the innkeeper’s elder daughter, an assertive, outspoken, and rather disrespectful young woman. She wears her hair bobbed and smokes cigarettes. Courted by three suitors, by the end of the novel she has married none of them and turns her attention to her sister Rachel’s child.
Ignatz, the half-Jewish town beggar whose nose was blown off in the war, leaving a repulsive hole in his face.
Reb Shlomo Bach
Reb Shlomo Bach, an old cantor, Daniel’s father, who goes to Israel even though his son Yerumin was killed there. Unquestioning in his service to God, he does not judge any work of the Almighty as either good or bad. In Israel, he becomes rejuvenated working in the fields alongside the young.
Penhas Aryeh (PEHN-hahs AHR-ee-eh), a writer for the Orthodox newspaper Agudat Israel, a “new man,” shallow and hypocritical, who does not know Torah or practice its commandments yet uses it to argue against the communists.