The midwife to Gouripur, she claims to be 120 years old at the time of Nazneen’s birth. Upon seeing infant Nazneen in the arms of Rupban, she declares the baby dead. Then, when… read analysis of Banesa
Nazneen’s husband. When she first meets him, Chanu is working as a mid-level civil servant in London. As such, he considers himself far above his fellow Bangladeshi immigrants, many of whom had menial labor… read analysis of Chanu
Nazneen and Hasina’s father and Rupban’s terminally unfaithful husband, Hamid is an overseer in the paddy field, and the second richest man in Gouripur. Furious when Hasina decides to elope with Malek… read analysis of Hamid
Nazneen’s younger sister, and the secondary protagonist of the book. Hasina is as beautiful and rebellious as Nazneen is plain and timid. At sixteen she shocks her parents by entering into a love marriage… read analysis of Hasina
Aunt to Nazneen and Hasina and sister to Hamid, Mumtaz is for the most part practical rather than superstitious. On-hand at Nazneen’s birth, she tries to convince Rupban to take her premature baby daughter… read analysis of Mumtaz
The primary protagonist of the book. As the “Child Who Was Left to Her Fate”—meaning her mother didn’t try to save her when she was born premature, but let God decide if she would live… read analysis of Nazneen
Mother to Nazneen and Hasina and wife to Hamid, Rupban believes she was born to suffer. Famous in the village of Gouripur for the time she spends weeping, Rupban is, in the words of… read analysis of Rupban
A London physician popular with Bengali immigrants, he is a small and precise man who lives and carries himself in a very meticulous manner. Chanu works hard to court his favor, thinking that the doctor… read analysis of Dr. Azad
A neighbor of Nazneen’s who knows everything about everyone living in Tower Hamlets, and who keeps a seemingly endless supply of handkerchiefs up her sleeves. Later, Nazneen learns from Razia that the handkerchiefs are… read analysis of Mrs. Islam
With her mannish hands and long, bony limbs, Razia, Nazneen’s closest friend in London, looks out of place in a sari. She is much more at home in her Union Jack sweatshirt. Razia… read analysis of Razia Iqbal
A male co-worker of Hasina’s at the garment factory, he always wears a fresh shirt to work. He calls Hasina “sister,” but eventually they begin walking to and from work together and he tells… read analysis of Abdul
One of Hasina’s clients when she is working as a prostitute, Ahmed becomes her second husband. He works the night-shift as a shoe factory supervisor and is obsessed with order. Ahmed is also an… read analysis of Ahmed
A friend of Hasina’s at the garment factory, she believes that trees have spirits and that sewing machines might too. She has five children and lives for them. Her husband did not want her… read analysis of Aleya
James (Jamshed Rashid)
The owner of the home where Hasina is eventually installed as a maid, he is the father of Jimmy and Daisy and the husband of Lovely. He works an executive at Dhaka National Plastics… read analysis of James (Jamshed Rashid)
Hasina’s landlord in Dhaka who gets her a job as a sewing woman at the garment factory. He has strong opinions about what he sees as workers’ essential laziness and the corruption he encounters… read analysis of Mr. Chowdhury
Another factory friend of Hasina’s, she is stubbornly independent. She has refused every single boy her parents have tried to marry her off to, and she objects to the dowry system, wondering why women… read analysis of Shahnaz
The Tattoo Woman
A white neighbor of Nazneen’s in Tower Hamlets in London, she spends her days drinking and throwing her beer cans straight out the window. To Nazneen, the woman has the same air of detachment… read analysis of The Tattoo Woman
An unpleasant, complaining woman who lives in the apartment behind Hasina in the Narayanganj neighborhood of Dhaka. Zainab is the wife of a district judge and lords her status over everyone she can. In time… read analysis of Zainab
Lovely (Anwara Begum)
Wife of James and mother to Jimmy and Daisy, she was once a beauty queen and now loves to entertain. Always on the hunt for a new charity to patronize (so that she might… read analysis of Lovely (Anwara Begum)
A friend of Hasina’s, she lies for a long time in the hospital, a victim of an acid attack at the hands of her husband and her husband’s sister. Monju was married at thirteen… read analysis of Monju
The eccentric cook for James and Lovely, he is so talented in the kitchen that he often gets away with doing very little work at all. He lives for Kung-Fu movies and liberal politics… read analysis of Zaid
Mohammad Raqib (Ruku)
Nazneen and Chanu’s first child, Mohammad is fair-skinned and beautiful. In him, Chanu sees a chance at greatness that he himself missed. He dies while still an infant of an unexplained fever.
Nazneen’s youngest daughter, Bibi is a born people pleaser. She listens attentively when Chanu gives his lectures on the history of Bangladesh and often joins her mother in her midnight snack sessions.
A third neighbor of Nazneen’s from Tower Hamlets.
A young wife and mother living in Tower Hamlets. She cannot make ends meet on her husband’s salary and therefore must go out and work among the Turks, Jews, and Brits, and is often the target of gossip and innuendo.
Chanu’s boss at the council. Mr. Dalloway is, according to Chanu, an active man and avid squash player. He has red hair and a harelip.
Plump, uncouth, and a chain smoker, she married Dr. Azad for love, but all that love has turned to contempt. Unlike Chanu, she feels no sentimentality for her home country of Bangladesh. As a Londoner and a working woman, she likes her short skirts and her freedom.
A member of the female Bengali Tower Hamlets community, she is a rotund woman who seems always to be expecting another child. Much of the unkind gossip surrounding Razia and Nazneen begins with her.
Unnamed, he seems to Nazneen to be perpetually angry. He is a large man with a furious face who holds down two jobs, one at a doll factory and another as a meat truck driver, until he dies one day, crushed by seventeen frozen cows.
Nazneen and Chanu’s oldest daughter, she often draws her father’s wrath by rejecting everything having to do with Bangladesh. She embraces British culture and hates so much the idea of going back to Bangladesh with her parents that she runs away the night before they are set to leave.
Razia’s daughter. She is smart and driven and is eventually admitted to university.
Son Number One
Doltish-looking and obviously dumb, he and his brother, Son Number Two, often assist their money-lending mother, Mrs. Islam, in the collection of debts. He is rumored to have a white girlfriend and two buttermilk-colored children.
Son Number Two
The more attractive of Mrs. Islam’s sons, he has a politician’s face but a brute’s demeanor. When Mrs. Islam comes to collect a debt from Nazneen, he produces a cricket bat and smashes her glass-fronted cabinet as a way of trying to get her to pay up.
Another neighbor of Nazneen’s from Tower Hamlets, she accompanies Nazma to the hospital to visit Raqib. While there, she comments on how all her own children are fit and healthy, which earns her a rebuke from Nazma.
Razia’s young son. He is, for a time, deeply devoted to his studies. Then he becomes a drug dealer and heroin addict. He recovers thanks in large part to his mother’s strength and resolve.
Hussain’s friend, he gives Hasina small trinkets during her time as a beggar.
Garment Factory Manager
The scaly-faced, fish-smelling man who runs the garment factory where Hasina first works, he fires her for her rumored sexual relationship with Abdul.
A jute cutter who lives in Hasina’s apartment building in Narayanganj, he is yellow-skinned and ugly, but kind and funny. When she is fired from the garment factory, Hasina sees him as her protector. Later, he becomes her pimp.
One of Hasina’s fellow sewing woman at the garment factory, she shuns Nazneen when rumors go around about her and Mr. Chowdhury. Later, Khaleda’s entire family is killed in a housefire.
Hasina’s first husband is the nephew to the sawmill owner in Gouripur. After marriage, he works for the railway. He beats Hasina for speaking out of turn.
Hasina’s landlady who helps her escape Malek for Dhaka, Mrs. Kashem thinks it better to be beaten by one’s husband than shown kindness by a stranger.
The young Tower Hamlets girl who tries to run away with Shahana.
A fourth friend of Hasina’s at the garment factory, she is now an old woman. Married off at fifteen to a much older man, she was widowed three months later and has had to work ever since. It is her belief that, like Rupban, she was born to suffer.
The Bengal Tiger Secretary
Always seen in immense Punjabi pajamas and a skull cap, he is loyal to Karim and therefore often acts in opposition to the Questioner.
The Multi-Cultural Officer
An African man who joins the Muslim faith in part because of its strict demands on its adherents, he is eventually elected to the board of directors of the Bengal Tigers.
The treasurer of the Bengal Tigers and enemy of Karim, he often brings grisly photos of dead Muslim children to the Tigers meetings in order to motivate the members to do more than circulate flyers and fight their rival gang, the Lion Hearts.
One of Hamid’s workers in Gouripur, he shows up in the village one day in a bright red jacket and grows to regret it because everyone mocks him. Clothing, in his opinion, is serious business.
A Servant Boy
A moody boy who always keeps a mongoose on a leash. During Rupban’s exorcism he volunteers to accept Rupban’s jinni, and then nearly kills the holy man performing the rite.
The sister of Rupban, she visits Nazneen and her family in the summer of Nazneen’s tenth year and spends the first few hours of the visit crying with Rupban.
Lovely’s best friend, Betty lives in a larger house than Lovely and has her own car and driver.
Nazneen and Hasina used to follow him around when they were girls in Gouripur, where he was considered a lunatic because of his constant reading habit. He kills himself by jumping into the village well, and Nazneen and Hasina feel responsible. They wish they hadn’t teased him so much.
A fakir, or holy man, he is in charge of Rupban’s exorcism, which goes spectacularly wrong.
A cow man in the village of Gouripur, he lost his mind and kidnapped a young girl, taking her into the jungle the summer Nazneen turned ten. This is the same summer Auntie comes for a visit.
The maid to the family that lives next door to James and Lovely, she is completely untroubled. She has an ugly round face, but to Hasina it is prettier than Lovely’s because Syeeda is, unlike Lovely, satisfied with her life.
Tamizuddin Mizra Haque
The barber of Gouripur, Tamizudden Mizra Haque is, to young Nazneen and Hasina, a much-trusted authority in the village. He is always referred to by all three names.
A coworker of Chanu's. Much to Chanu's resentment, Mr. Dalloway seems to prefer Wilkie.
A woman who leaves her husband after discovering he secretly had another wife. However, she ends up in serious financial trouble.
Daisy and Jimmy
The children of James and Lovely.