Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The protagonist, Martín Marco, is down on his luck during the events depicted in the novel, which is set in 1940s Spain. Rarely finding work because of his political beliefs and the scarcity of writing jobs, Martín lives off the charity of his family and friends but often squanders their money. Generally disillusioned by the fascist control of Spain and the war that is devastating Europe, he sometimes sinks into existential despair.
Filo, Martín’s sister, helps him by giving him meals. She is just turning 34. Married to Roberto González, she has five children. Despite his hard work, his earnings as an accountant are barely adequate to support the family. Robert, who values respectability, also resents Martín, whom he considers lazy and spoiled, for constantly asking their family for help.
Pablo Alonso, Martín’s friend, lets him stay in his home rent free.
Nati Robles is a former girlfriend from university days. Then politically active, she studied law and pushed for women’s rights, but has since set aside her Republican leanings in order to work.
Doña Rosa owns La Delicia, the café where Martín and his friends hang out. Perpetually bad-tempered, she ejects non-paying customers and sometimes tells her staff to beat them. Her pro-Franco politics clash with her patrons’ opposing beliefs.
Elvira, an aging prostitute, is one of the café’s regulars. She spends much of her time reminiscing about her unhappy life, including childhood parental abuse and a homicidal father, who killed her mother and left her orphaned. She has never emerged from poverty.
The wealthy Doña Ramona Bragado owns a dairy, but on the side she is a procuress who sees sex as strictly business. Doña Jesusa owns a brothel that Martín frequents. He had gotten to know her through his mother, who has passed away. Purita is a prostitute at the brothel.