Amabelle Désir is a Haitian-Dominican orphan who lives in the home of her employer Papi and his daughter Señora Valencia. She changes over the course of the novel in terms of her understanding of her place within Dominican society and her understanding of her relationship with her employers. Amabelle initially appears naive and largely unaware of the gulf between her Spanish-Dominican employers and herself. She views Papi and Señora Valencia more like family members than employers and struggles to accept the wave of anti-Haitian feeling sweeping her community. After the death of her lover Sebastien and her own brutal beating at the hands of an angry crowd, she begins to understand the reality of Dominican-Haitian relations.
Yves is a minor character at the beginning of the novel but takes on a central role after he decides to leave the Dominican Republic with Amabelle Désir. Yves is deeply troubled by the deaths of his friends Joël and Sebastien and feels guilty for having survived them despite his own nearly identical circumstances. He and his mother Man Rapadou take in Amabelle in the city of Cap Haitien, Haiti. Yves lives with Amabelle for 24 years, but the two never become companions save a brief sexual encounter that they spend the rest of their lives regretting.
Sebastien and Amabelle Désir have similar histories. They have both come from the same city in Haiti and have both lost a parent to tragedy. Sebastien treats Amabelle with love and respect even though he disagrees with her naivete regarding the wealthy family she serves. Sebastien sees Papi and Señora Valencia as the elite "others" who seek to oppress and marginalize all Haitian-Dominicans. He chides Amabelle for her belief that they are her family and encourages her to recognize her own subordinate position within Dominican society.
Señora Valencia is reliant on Amabelle Désir for companionship at the beginning of the novel and shows kindness and affection toward Amabelle who is close to her in age. Like Amabelle, Señora Valencia is also somewhat naive as to the storm brewing around her. She does not fully recognize Pico's propensity for violence and destruction. Even when it is clear to all that Pico and his men are rounding up and killing those who were once viewed as friends, Señora Valencia does not turn away from him. She is loyal to him throughout the novel and justifies his actions as him merely "following orders."
Papi immigrated to the Dominican Republic from Spain and is a wealthy and influential man in the village of Alegría. He took Amabelle Désir into his home after finding her alone mourning the death of her parents. Papi is unlike most of the other Dominicans in the novel as he is a kind and honorable man. He feels extreme guilt after Pico kills Joël and tries to do everything he can to make amends to Joël's father Kongo. Papi also speaks out against Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (1891–1961) and his growing abuse of power and angry rhetoric aimed at Haitian-Dominicans.
Pico and Señora Valencia do not know much about each other before they wed and spend little time together afterward, so they are virtual strangers at the beginning of the novel. Pico's true nature becomes apparent as he shows increasing hostility and hatred toward Haitian-Dominicans like Amabelle Désir. He and his men are central actors in the massacre of thousands of Haitian-Dominicans like Sebastien and Mimi.