Benjamin Komoetie is a white foundling. The “Coloured” (multiracial) farmer Fiela Komoetie and her husband Selling rescue Benjamin when he’s three years old. His life changes forever when two census-takers arrive and notice the white… read analysis of Benjamin
Fiela Komoetie is a “Coloured” (multiracial) farmer from Long Kloof on the West Cape of South Africa. She and her husband Selling have several children together: Dawid, Tollie, Emma, and Kittie… read analysis of Fiela
Elias van Rooyen is a wood-beam maker who lives in the Forest on Barnard’s Island with his wife, Barta, and his children, Willem, Kristoffel, and Nina. Elias and Barta had another… read analysis of Elias
Barta van Rooyen is the wife of the wood-beam maker Elias. She and Elias live with their children in the Forest. She grieves when their child Lukas disappears and seemingly perishes, but then one… read analysis of Barta
Nina is the daughter of Elias and Barta. She temporarily becomes a “sister” to Benjamin after he comes to live with them as “Lukas.” After realizing that Benjamin likely isn’t her biological… read analysis of Nina
The census-takers are a pair of men in black hats and suits who forever change the lives of two families when they decide that the white Benjamin is not the rightfully adopted son of the… read analysis of The Census-Takers
The magistrate in Knysna (whose name is Mr. Goldsbury, though the book more often refers to him by his title) is an upper-class man who is the most powerful legal figure in the region where… read analysis of The Magistrate
Selling Komoetie is the husband of Fiela and the biological father of her children. Selling used to be a strong and relatively wealthy “Coloured” (multiracial) man. Many young women in his community wanted to marry… read analysis of Selling
Petrus is one of the most influential white residents of the town near where Fiela, Selling, and their children live. Petrus is one of the more sympathetic white authority figures in the novel… read analysis of Petrus
Dawid is the eldest son of Fiela and Selling. After Fiela adopts Benjamin, Dawid becomes one of his closest companions growing up. When the census-takers come to take Benjamin away, Benjamin regrets not… read analysis of Dawid
Mr. Benn is a pilot who supervises ships as they traverse the rocky waters where the sea meets the head of the Knysna river, a job he takes seriously. He can be a gruff man… read analysis of Mr. Benn
Kaliel September is an oarsman who works for Mr. Benn and who takes Benjamin under his wing after Mr. Benn initially rejects Benjamin for a job. Kaliel is full of ingenuity, building a home out… read analysis of Kaliel September
Lukas van Rooyen is the young child of Elias and Barta who disappears one day in the fog when he’s still a toddler. Although the census-takers claim that Benjamin is in fact Lukas and that… read analysis of Lukas
Emma is the youngest biological child of Fiela and Selling. Fiela is pregnant with her while Selling goes to jail for committing murder, and she takes the infant Emma with her while she secretly… read analysis of Emma
Willem is the eldest son of Elias and Barta and eventually a “brother” to Benjamin. Elias teaches Willem how to cut wood beams. Later, Elias often sends Willem to try to find Nina… read analysis of Willem
Kristoffel is the second-oldest son of Elias and Barta and eventually a “brother” to Benjamin. Like Willem, he is initially loyal to his father, but he grows increasingly estranged from him over the… read analysis of Kristoffel
Miss Weatherbury is a relatively upper-class English woman who takes in Nina as a servant even after Nina’s habit of running away and shirking her duties at her previous gives her a bad reputation. Although… read analysis of Miss Weatherbury
Aunt Malie lives in the small Forest community of Barnard’s Island where Elias, Barta, and their family also live. She suspects from the very beginning that Benjamin is not in fact Elias and… read analysis of Aunt Malie
Tollie is the third child of Fiela and Selling. After the removal of Benjamin and the death of Dawid, he becomes their only remaining son, but Fiela feels that he is already half gone due to his drinking. Tollie’s drinking ultimately leads to his imprisonment.
Kittie is the first child of Fiela and Selling. She becomes a sister to Benjamin, and Fiela uses Kittie’s skill in reading and writing to compose an important letter to Benjamin near the end of the novel.
Mr. Kapp is a forester who works for the magistrate to make sure that Elias and Barta are treating Benjamin well. Elias easily manipulates Mr. Kapp, hiding the fact that Benjamin has serious lash-wounds. Mr. Kapp’s failure to protect Benjamin highlights the shortcomings of bureaucracy.
Years before the events of the main story take place, Kies Laghaan steals a sheep that belonged to Selling Komoetie, and in response, Selling stabs him to death. This sends Selling to prison and starts a rift between the Komoetie and Laghaan families.
Book is a sailor who works for Mr. Benn and helps teach Benjamin some of the basics of rowing and life at sea.
Bet is the daughter of Aunt Malie. She at one point seems like she could be a potential wife for Benjamin, when everyone still believes he’s “Lukas.”
Aunt Gertie lives in Barnard’s Island near Elias and Barta.
Hans Ouka gives Elias advice for how to hunt elephants.