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Last Updated on September 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 552

Odilo Unverdorben

The character first introduced as Tod T. Friendly is later known as John Young (in New York), and then Hamilton de Souza (in Portugal), and, finally, his original identity, Odilo Unverdorben. Odilo was born in Germany and attended medical school. He married a woman named Herta, had a child, and lost the child. Odilo began work as a doctor. We understand that Odilo changed his identity several times, changing location as well, in an effort to distance himself from his past as a doctor at Auschwitz, guilty of thousands of murders. In his later life, he struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. He is haunted by his actions yet manages to escape prosecution by constantly changing his location. The first scene in the story details his death as an old man, and he dies without having been punished for his atrocious crimes.

The Narrator

Though Time’s Arrow is the story of Odilo in reverse, it is told through the lens of a soul-like entity. This narrator is equipped with general knowledge of the world, yet experiences everything backward and believes this to be normal. The entity is not able to access Odilo’s thoughts or control him in any way. It can experience his emotions, however, as well as bodily experiences such as pain or excitement. Unable to understand the full capacity of Odilo’s crimes in reverse, the entity believes that Odilo’s time as a Nazi doctor helped Jewish people and brought bodies back together rather than destroying them. The narrator serves as a sort of conscience, though it does not guide Odilo nor communicate with him.


Irene is the woman with whom Tod has a long, on-again-off-again sexual relationship. He does not tell her the secret of his past. She worked, evidently, as his cleaning lady for some time before they developed an intimate relationship. However, because the narrator sees events in reverse, he believes that Irene actually pays Tod.


Herta is Odilo's wife to whom he was married as a young man in Germany. They were childhood sweethearts who wed when she was just eighteen and he was a medical student. Though she tightly regulated their intimacy during the courtship, after they married, Odilo became controlling and demanding and even abusive. (Though, because of the reverse nature of the narrative, this is not the way the narrator interprets it). Herta lost a child, a daughter named Eva, and objected to Odilo's "work" in the ghettos and camps. 

Uncle Pepi 

Uncle Pepi was Odilo's mentor in Auschwitz. He was, evidently, modeled after the real-life Josef Mengele who was nicknamed the Angel of Death as a result of his "experiments" on Jews and membership on the team that decided which prisoners would be gassed in Auschwitz.

Reverend Nicholas Kreditor

The Reverend lives in New York and periodically sends Odilo (as Tod) cryptic letters to alert him of his safety. He tells Tod that the weather is “temperate” in New York, meaning that no one is suspicious of Odilo’s whereabouts or wrongdoings. It is the Reverend who recommends Odilo leave New York to avoid suspicion. Told forward, he helps the then-John obtain a new identification as Tod Friendly. He then continually updates him on his status in New York, inciting dread in Odilo each time.

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