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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 270

Tzili Straus is the main character of the novel. She's a young Jewish girl who isn't very good at school and is the victim of her cruel classmates. Her family doesn't seem very fond of her; they leave her behind when they flee the Nazis. She learns to care for herself to some extent, but she's still only 15 when she gets pregnant by a much older married man. Her child is stillborn. Tzili, unlike the rest of her family, manages to escape the Nazis and head toward Palestine on a boat.

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Maria is the local prostitute. After her family flees, Tzili is mistaken for being her daughter and lets the incorrect assumption take root so that people will be kinder to her. Appelfeld says that Maria's name was a household word in their district and that she had many daughters. Tzili remembers that one of her brothers had gotten Maria in trouble. Maria works with Katerina, another prostitute. Tzili works with her for awhile but refuses to prostitute herself and leaves when Katerina becomes violent.

Mark is a 40-year old Jewish man with a wife and children. He escapes from a concentration camp and travels with Tzili. Ultimately he gets her pregnant and leaves her. His wife and children are too scared to escape the camp with him and he left them behind; he is haunted by his past.

Linda is a kind woman with whom Tzili escapes to Palestine. She's a large woman and an optimistic one. She used to be a dancer. Tzili meets her when she's pregnant and they're traveling to escape the Nazis with other survivors.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 588

Tzili Kraus

Tzili Kraus, a young, provincial Jewish girl, plain, quiet, and not very bright. Tzili is disliked by her family for her lack of intelligence. When the Nazi troubles begin, her family decides that she is so simple that no one will bother her, so they leave Tzili behind when they try to make their escape. Although she is simple, Tzili has an innate sense of survival (such as saying that the town prostitute Maria, who is not Jewish, is her mother) that other Jews lack; no matter what troubles befall her, she goes on living in her undemanding, almost heedless, way—even when, near the end of the book, she sees Jewish survivors of concentration camps committing suicide around her. The novel follows her journey as she seems to survive accidentally, her pregnancy that ends in a stillborn child, and finally her decision to go to Palestine.

The old blind man

The old blind man, who sits in the fields all day. He gives Tzili some food but then tries to rape her.

The religious teacher

The religious teacher, a Jewish tutor who is brought in by Tzili’s family to teach her religion because they believe she is too stupid to learn anything more worthwhile. Although he did not feel affectionate toward Tzili, he was not cruel to her, so she remembers him as a kind man. The prayers she learned from him serve to comfort her while she is hiding in the countryside.


Katerina, a dying old prostitute, once a friend of Maria, Tzili’s “adopted” mother. Katerina takes Tzili in for the winter. When Katerina becomes too ill to entice men, she tries to turn Tzili into a prostitute.

The old man

The old man and

the old woman

the old woman, a couple who take Tzili in after she runs away from Katerina. The old woman beats Tzili, and the old man tries to rape her, so she flees them.


Mark, a Jewish man who has escaped from a concentration camp and who is hiding in the countryside. He and Tzili hide together in a bunker that he has dug. As Tzili matures, Mark is attracted to her, and Tzili becomes pregnant by him. The hiding takes a mental toll on Mark, and one day he leaves and never returns, presumably having been captured by the Nazis.


Linda, a fat Hungarian woman who was a cabaret performer. Linda helps keep up the spirits of the fatally depressed and guilt-ridden Jews who have survived the Holocaust. At one point, she forces the group of wanderers that Tzili has joined to go back for Tzili and carry her, when Tzili is heavily pregnant and unable to continue walking. At the end of the book, she joins Tzili for the voyage to Palestine.

The merchant

The merchant, another Holocaust survivor. He helps to organize the men to carry Tzili on a stretcher when she can no longer walk, and he brings her milk. When Tzili starts having a problem with her pregnancy, the merchant goes from place to place trying to get her help. He is left behind, however, when the military ambulance finally arrives to take Tzili to the hospital.

The nurse

The nurse, a young gentile Czechoslovak woman. She is Tzili’s nurse in the hospital in Zagreb after Tzili’s dead baby is surgically removed. With the nurse, Tzili strikes a chord of solidarity for the first time. Tzili is moved away to make room for the sicker patients.

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