Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Menachem Nachmanovich Dajcher

Menachem Nachmanovich Dajcher, called Mendel, a twenty-eight-year-old Jewish watch mender, artilleryman, and partisan. After becoming detached from his Red Army unit, Mendel lives simply and reclusively in the woods, joining first with Leonid and then with various bands of partisan fighters. He is a patient and honest man who broods uncomprehendingly over the brutal murder of his wife and the wholesale destruction of his village. His experiences have made him sensitive to the ubiquitous anti-Semitism of wartime Europe. For his knowledge of Jewish tradition and his wisdom regarding people and war, Mendel is respected by fellow partisans and is consulted on major decisions. He has an innate sense of responsibility for his actions, and he thinks that his intimacy with Line is to blame for Leonid’s death.


Leonid, a nineteen-year-old Red Army deserter and escaped prisoner of war. An educated Muscovite Jew who has been a bookkeeper, a thief, and a paratrooper, Leonid is tired of war and longs for peace. He is a moody young man charged with sadness, silent and trustworthy but susceptible to insolence and evasiveness. When a mission excites him, however, he commits himself to it passionately, even rashly. He grows dependent on his love for Line and is consumed with anger and jealousy when she drops him for Mendel. Leonid is killed in a foolishly dangerous move during an attack on a German Lager in Poland.


Emmeline, most often called Line, a young Jewish woman in the partisan band. Line is small and slight, with dark eyes and surprising strength. She is a serious and intense fighter who holds strong socialist, feminist, and Zionist convictions. Wise and clear-sighted, she is intriguing to others: Leonid...

(The entire section is 748 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The novel teems with colorfully drawn characters from Eastern Europe and the Soviet republics, both Jews and non-Jews, each with his or her own national political and personal history. These figures represent a complex interaction of contradictory forces, with the Jewish partisans at the center. Fifteen or more named Gedalists are given highly individualized personalities; their backgrounds and views may differ widely, but they are bound together by a shared heritage of age-old persecution, and by a common language (Yiddish), combined with a knowledge, no matter how slight it is in some cases, of Talmudic culture. These elements color everything they do and say.

One of the ways in which Levi achieves such convincing representations of “real” people is by having them talk and think in terms of their own work or skills. Mendel provides a particularly vivid example of this approach. A former watch mender, he observes people in terms of gears wrongly meshed, of springs too tightly wound, and he sums up situations by comparing their dynamics with those of a working watch. Mendel weaves this practical approach to life into a philosophical context gleaned from the Old Testament.

Gedaleh’s points of reference are his love of poetry and music, particularly his violin, which, according to legend, once saved him from a bullet. He carries his beloved instrument with him everywhere and plays it in the most unexpected places. The violin is a symbol...

(The entire section is 586 words.)