The head of a major Japanese electronics firm and an extremely hard worker. Order and diligence characterize Hosokawa’s life, and only when listening to opera does he feel passionately alive. His adoration for the voice of opera singer Roxanne Coss brings him to the poor South American country where the novel is set. There, Hosokawa and Coss fall in love.
An opera diva used to the indulgence of the world. Over the course of the novel, every man who hears Coss sing falls in love with her. Eventually, Coss returns the love of Hosokawa. While she is small in stature, Coss has an oversized presence.
Hosokawa’s interpreter. Watanabe, who is in his twenties, has a great gift for languages, and the hostages and the terrorists rely on him to communicate with one another. Despite his facility with languages, Watanabe struggles when trying to express himself. He has an intuitive sense of what everyone else wants and needs, but he is not always aware of his own desires. When Watanabe falls in love with Carmen, one of the terrorists, he finds his own voice.
A shy, timid, and beautiful young terrorist. Carmen’s greatest talent is her ability to move stealthily, without other people noticing her presence. She asks Gen Watanabe to teach her how to read and write in Spanish, her native language. Over the course of their secret lessons, they fall in love.
The vice president of the small South American country in which the novel is set, and the owner of the house in which the terrorists hold their captives. Iglesias, one of the most sympathetic characters in the novel, rose up from poverty and put himself through law school by working as a clerk and a janitor. During the four-month standoff, he spends much of his time cleaning up after the other hostages and terrorists and making sure that they are all comfortable. When the terrorists allow the hostages outside, he immediately begins tending his garden.
The most intelligent and thoughtful of the three generals who lead the terrorists. Benjamin was a schoolteacher until his brother was arrested and imprisoned for handing out flyers publicizing a political protest. After that, he joined the terrorist group La Familia de Martin Suarez, named after a ten-year-old boy who was shot dead while handing out flyers for a political rally. Benjamin has left behind a wife and children, and he is fatherly to some of the young terrorists under his command. He is plagued with shingles, which rage across much of his face.
The French ambassador to the South American country where the novel is set. Because he longs for his wife, Thibault is the hostage who is most unhappy about the long standoff.
A Swiss representative for the Red Cross. who negotiates between the government and the terrorists. He is the one person allowed to come and go from the mansion. Messner punctuates the general happiness with frequent reminders that the situation will end badly.
A good numbers man in Hosokawa’s electronics company. During the four months of captivity, Kato reveals himself to be an accomplished pianist and takes over for Coss’s accompanist. The tenderness Kato feels for his wife and daughters infuses his piano playing. Kato longs to continue accompanying Coss instead of returning to his life as a businessman.
A young priest and an opera lover. Although the terrorists are willing to release him, Father Arguedas asks to stay. During the four months of captivity, he says mass and hears people’s confessions. He is one of the first characters to feel more concern than fear for the terrorists. He considers the four months during which he is able to hear Coss sing a gift from God.
A high-ranking Soviet official. Fyodorov declares his love for Coss not because he hopes she will return it, but because expressing his love for her makes him feel better. Fyodorov tells Coss how much he loved a beautiful book of paintings that his grandmother had when he was a child, and compares his love for that book to his love for her.
A South American contractor and one of the captives. Mendoza and the vice president, Iglesias, often chat, talking about their early love affairs, their adoration for Coss, and the affection they feel for one of the young terrorists, Ishmael. Mendoza has nightmares that in his absence, young men will take advantage of his five daughters, wooing them into love affairs the way Mendoza himself wooed young girls when he was a young man.
One of the youngest and brightest of the terrorists. Ishmael learns to play chess by watching General Benjamin and Hosokawa play. He is a favorite of both General Benjamin and the hostages. Iglesias becomes particularly fond of Ishmael and wants to adopt him.
A young terrorist with crooked teeth and a crooked nose. For most of the novel, no one really notices Cesar. But one morning when Coss does not come down to sing, Cesar performs instead, and his voice is practically miraculous. Coss takes him under her wing and gives him singing lessons.
The brattiest of the young terrorists. Beatriz is often cranky and frustrated, and she is quick to draw her gun if any of the hostages get out of line. But her strong will is appealing, as is her craving for affection.
Coss’s accompanist. Much to Coss’s dismay, Christopf declares his love for Coss on the plane ride to the South American country. She rejects his love, but he refuses to leave her side after they are taken captive, even when he grows deathly ill. A diabetic, he eventually dies from lack of insulin.
The governess who cares for Ruben Iglesias’ children. She ably and tenderly stitches up Iglesias’ face after he is wounded.
The president never makes a direct appearance in the novel. The terrorists invade the party in the hopes of capturing him, but he has stayed home to watch an important episode of his favorite soap opera.