The novel’s narrator and protagonist. An intelligent, hardworking, and curious fourteen-year-old girl, Tambu is hungry for an education and eager to escape life on the homestead. While she is sensitive and kind, she is also often harsh and unyielding in her judgments. Tambu is sympathetic to the powerful pull of tradition, but at the same time, she wishes to break free of the limitations placed on her sex.

Read an in-depth analysis of Tambu.


Tambu’s uncle. Babamukuru is the highly educated and successful headmaster of the mission school. A patriarchal and authoritarian figure, he uses his power and position to improve the lives of his extended family, but he does it out of duty, not love. He is a remote, cold, and distant father and takes no pains to hide his disappointment in and growing contempt for his daughter, Nyasha.

Read an in-depth analysis of Babamukuru.


Nyasha’s brother, son of Babamukuru and Maiguru. Chido is tall, athletic, and handsome, as well as charismatic, intelligent, and highly educated. He has little interest in his family or in visiting either the homestead or the mission. Educated mostly among white colonists, he grows accustomed to a life of luxury and eventually takes a white girlfriend.


Tambu’s father and Babamukuru’s brother. Jeremiah is naïve, ignorant, and superstitious. He seems barely concerned with the future and success of his children and grows increasingly detached from his family. In Babamukuru’s presence he is servile and fawning, lauding his siblings’ accomplishments. With his immediate family, however, he is disdainful of education and does little to encourage his children’s ambitions.


Ma’Shingayi’s sister. Lucia is a mysterious, strong-willed woman who is feared by many and said to be a witch. Shrewd and sexually promiscuous, Lucia is the object of gossip and rumor and is said to have had many affairs with rich men. She is outspoken and pays no heed to the social code that requires woman to be silent and obedient. She emerges as an independent and ambitious woman, eager to educate herself and improve her lot in life.


Tambu’s aunt and Babamukuru’s wife. Maiguru is a strong, educated, and successful professional woman and thus stands out from the rest of the women in her family. Life in England has changed her, and she wants her children to act more Western. She later fears they have become too Anglicized. Gentle, conscientious, and caring, she accepts her passive role in her marriage and the sacrifices she must make to keep Babamukuru happy. Though she rebels and leaves him, she returns out of her sense of duty and her love for her family.

Read an in-depth analysis of Maiguru.


Tambu’s mother. Initially, Ma’Shingayi is portrayed as a hardworking figure who has toiled and sacrificed so that her son can have an education. After Nhamo’s death, she grows spiteful, angry, and jealous of those around her. Her hard life also makes her apathetic and accepting of the limitations with which life has saddled her.


Tambu’s younger sister. Netsai is obedient and subservient, a kindhearted and hardworking girl who helps Nhamo and the rest of the family, not solely out of duty, but because she truly loves them.


Tambu’s brother. Nhamo takes advantage of his status as the eldest son in the family. He is spiteful and mean and goes out of his way to taunt Tambu and lord over her the fact that he is receiving an education. After he leaves for the mission, he grows superior, lazy, and condescending, offering no assistance to his family in their daily toils.


Tambu’s cousin, daughter of Babamukuru and Maiguru. Nyasha is silently observant with an often unsettling intensity. Though she can be precocious and charming, she does little to make the other girls at school like her. At times she is easily provoked, volatile, and strong-willed, and she likes to argue with and openly resist Babamukuru. She is a product of two worlds and grows increasingly confused of her identity and the hybrid influences of life in England and Rhodesia.

Read an in-depth analysis of Nyasha.


A cousin of Babamukuru and Jeremiah. After Nhamo’s death, Takesure is enlisted to help Jeremiah with the labors on the homestead. Like Jeremiah, he is lazy, foolish, and superstitious and abuses his power as a man. He has many wives, whom he cannot support. He impregnates Lucia and tries to make her his concubine.