Saúl is intelligent, curious, kindhearted, and devoted to his elderly father Don Salomón. His disfiguring birthmark presents challenges in social situations. When he meets the narrator, the two are studying law at Peru's University of San Marcos. Though Saúl is a deep thinker and an excellent student, he's critical of academic research methods in anthropology, which greatly interests him. After several trips to the Amazon, he becomes fascinated with indigenous South American tribes, especially the Machiguengas. Saúl strongly advocates for tribal independence and autonomy. The narrator believes Saúl experiences a "conversion" to ancient tribal values.
The narrator is bright, levelheaded, and skeptical. Raised as a Catholic, he thinks critically about religion as an adult. Close friends with Saúl in university, they rarely see each other after graduation. The narrator believes Western integration is inevitable for Amazon tribes, a topic he and Saúl debate frequently as students. After finishing law school the narrator receives a fellowship to study in Madrid. He later becomes a writer and briefly works as the producer of a documentary television series. He has always wanted to learn more about the Machiguenga tribe, particularly the figure of the storyteller. During a visit to Florence, Italy, he sees a photography exhibit documenting the Machiguenga tribe, and he is reminded of Saúl.
The storyteller is a respected member of the tribe. He travels between scattered Machiguenga homes and gives tribe members news of faraway family and friends. He also retells Machiguenga myths and legends. He walks alone with only his parrot for company, which is unusual for Machiguenga people, who walk in groups. In Chapter 7 the storyteller reveals he wasn't always a member of the tribe. Rejected by a former community because of his facial deformity, he found a home with the Machiguengas.