Jacob, a devout, scholarly Jew, twenty-nine years old as the novel opens. A survivor of a massacre, he is sold as a slave to Polish peasant Jan Bzik, who uses him as a cowherd. He is tall, with brown hair and blue eyes, and he is descended from rabbis. He resists the temptation to commit adultery with Wanda, Jan’s daughter, in a mountain village in which diseased sexuality is rampant, but he finally succumbs and is tormented by shame and desire. After five years, Jacob is ransomed by fellow Jews. Their account of Cossack atrocities in his village and of the death of his wife and children increases his guilt. He returns to Wanda after seeing her in a dream. It is Jacob’s faithful nature that makes him return to Pilitz twenty years after her death, and there he dies, faithful to the last.
Wanda Bzik, the widowed daughter of Jan. She is almost pagan but comparatively civilized, a fair-haired, good-looking, capable, and healthy woman. Managing her father’s household, she falls in love with Jacob and helps him by bringing him food and treating a snakebite. She pursues him passionately and is eager to learn his doctrine. When he is ransomed, she falls sick; she is in this condition when he rescues her. She accompanies him to Pilitz, pretending to be a deaf-mute, Dumb Sarah, and trying to behave as a Jewish married woman should. She dies giving birth to a son and reveals, in her agony, the truth about...
(The entire section is 572 words.)