Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski
One of the novel’s two protagonists, along with Julia. Ten-year-old Sarah is arrested with her parents during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup of 1942. Although both her parents are deported to and murdered at Auschwitz… read analysis of Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski
Sarah’s younger brother, who was four years old at the time of the roundup. Michel only appears in one scene, where he refuses to accompany his mother and sister, instead convincing Sarah to lock… read analysis of Michel Starzynski
Sarah’s father, originally from Poland. Wladyslaw is a kind man who is devoted to his family. He is hiding in the cellar on the night of the roundup, but when his wife, Rywka… read analysis of Wladyslaw Starzynski
Sarah’s mother, also from Poland. Before the war, Rywka was cheerful and outgoing. She laughed often and was an attentive mother and compassionate neighbor. She even helped nurse Madame Royer’s baby, a detail… read analysis of Rywka Starzynski
Julia and Bertrand’s eleven-year-old daughter. Zoë is upbeat and energetic, with a strong sense of humor. She is also incredibly perceptive. Although Julia does not tell her daughter that she is pregnant, when Julia… read analysis of Zoë Tézac
Julia’s younger sister, an attorney. Julia is very close to Charla, who is one of the few people Julia tells about her pregnancy in its early stages. Charla lives in New York City. She… read analysis of Charla
Julia’s mother, a former champion tennis player. When Julia calls her mother to tell her she is going to Italy and won’t be able to visit her, Heather expresses worry over Julia’s “rushed” actions… read analysis of Heather Jarmond
Julia’s husband. Bertrand is very charming, with an “infectious laugh, a cross between a hyena and a saxophone.” He and Julia met at a discotheque when Julia was twenty-seven. Bertrand comes from a well-to-do… read analysis of Bertrand Tézac
Bertrand’s father, and Julia’s father-in-law. Edouard is formal and reserved. Julia reflects that she “could not imagine him showing any other emotion apart from anger, pride, and self-satisfaction.” While Edouard is very close… read analysis of Edouard
Marcelle Tézac, aka Mamé
Edouard’s mother and Bertrand’s paternal grandmother. At the beginning of the novel, Mamé is living in a nursing home due to her dementia. Mamé is outspoken and rebellious and has always been welcoming… read analysis of Marcelle Tézac, aka Mamé
Edouard’s father and Bertrand’s paternal grandfather. André inherited his family’s wine business, but ended up opening an antique store. André and Edouard were present the day Sarah Starzynski returned to the rue de… read analysis of André
Son of Richard Rainsferd and Sarah Starzynski. When Julia first meets him, William is living in Lucca, Italy, with his wife, Francesca, and their daughters, Stefania and Giustina. William is described as being very… read analysis of William Rainsferd
Jules and Geneviève Dufaure
Sarah Starzynski’s adoptive parents. An elderly couple living south of Paris in Orléans, Jules and Geneviève harbor Sarah and Rachel after Jules discovers them hiding in his shed. When Sarah tells them she intends… read analysis of Jules and Geneviève Dufaure
Gaspard and Nicolas Dufaure
Jules and Geneviève’s grandsons, and Sarah Starzynski’s adoptive brothers. Julia conducts an interview with Gaspard, in which she learns of Sarah’s marriage to Richard Rainsferd and in which Gaspard pushes her to articulate… read analysis of Gaspard and Nicolas Dufaure
A young girl whom Sarah Starzynski befriends in the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp. Rachel is fierce and brave, and Sarah is initially put off by Rachel’s intensity. Rachel proposes that she and Sarah try to escape… read analysis of Rachel
Julia’s boss at the magazine Seine Scenes. Originally from New York City, Joshua is exacting and intense. Joshua gives Julia the assignment to write about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup. When Julia’s article is… read analysis of Joshua
Julia’s coworker, a photojournalist. Bamber is British and has a good sense of humor. With Julia, Bamber visits the sites of the Drancy and Beaune-la-Rolande camps and photographs them for Julia’s article. Bamber’s Britishness… read analysis of Bamber
Julia’s good friend and former roommate. Hervé is in his forties and is one of Julia’s closest friends, someone with whom she never feels like “l’Américaine” (i.e., the American). Normally Julia would confide in… read analysis of Hervé
The concierge who sells out Sarah’s family and then re-lets the flat to Mamé Tézac and family. Madame Royer is anti-Semitic, callous, and self-serving. She offers to help the French police locate Sarah’s brother… read analysis of Madame Royer
The policeman from Sarah’s neighborhood in Paris. She recognizes him as she is being deported on a bus from Paris, but when she waves he refuses to meet her eyes. Later, he shaves Sarah’s… read analysis of The Policeman
Julia and Bertrand’s younger daughter, only two years old by the end of the book. Julia names her after Sarah Starzynski, as a tribute to “the little girl with the yellow star” who changed her life.
Julia’s father, a professor at MIT.
Bertrand’s mother. Colette plays a minor role in the novel, but is shown to be similar to Laure in her coldness toward Julia and her attachment to the norms of traditional, reserved French society.
Bertrand’s sister, blond and “angular.” Laure is businesslike and cold. She sides with her mother, Colette, in strongly disapproving of Julia’s research about the rue de Saintonge apartment.
Bertrand’s younger sister, red-haired and “voluptuous.” Cécile runs the antique store started by her grandfather, André, and formerly run by her father, Edouard. She is more emotional than Laure, and is ultimately approving of Julia’s decision to uncover the intertwined history of the Starzynskis and Tézacs.
Sarah Starzynski’s husband. By the time Julia locates him, Richard is unconscious and bedridden with cancer. Little is revealed about Richard except that he is American and married Sarah in 1955.
Richard’s second wife, originally from Italy. Mara is plump and kind, with “black” eyes. She raised William, Sarah Starzynski’s son, from the time he was twelve, after Sarah died. After Julia mistakes Mara for Sarah, Mara gives Julia William’s address in Italy so she can contact him.
Daughter of Richard and Mara, and William’s half sister. Ornella is in her mid-thirties and very friendly. She invites Julia in and introduces her to her mother.
Son of Jules and Geneviève, father of Gaspard and Nicolas.
Alain’s wife, mother of Gaspard and Nicolas.
Gaspard Dufaure’s granddaughter. In an effort to track down Sarah Starzynski, Julia traces the Dufaure family and comes into contact with Nathalie. Nathalie does not know anything about her grandfather’s past, but is eager to learn, and helps facilitate Julia’s interview with Gaspard.
Julia’s coworker, a minor character. Alessandra is Italian. She is attractive and ambitious. Julia admits to not liking Alessandra very much, finding her self-important.
Bertrand’s business partner in an architectural form. Antoine is helping to coordinate the renovation of the rue de Saintonge apartment.
Bertrand’s mistress. Amélie is French and seems to Julia “the image of Parisian perfection.” At the end of the novel, Bertrand has moved back in with Amélie.
Head of a French association that helps Jewish people track their families’ histories following the Holocaust. Lévy is in his sixties, dignified and serious. He helps Julia track the fates of the Starzynskis, on the condition that she will not publish the information in her magazine.
Julia’s good friend and former roommate. Christophe and Hervé are still roommates and often host dinner parties. Together, Julia refers to them as “the boys.”
Friend of Hervé and Christophe. Guillaume’s grandmother was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, specifically the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup. Julia meets Guillaume at a dinner party hosted by Hervé and Christophe. Guillaume is supportive of Julia’s research.
One of Julia’s closest French friends. Julia and Isabelle’s daughters are in a ballet class together. Isabelle is incredibly supportive of Julia’s difficulties in getting pregnant and in her marital troubles with Bertrand.
Sarah’s best friend. Armelle is also Jewish, but she and her family escaped Paris before the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup. Armelle is clever, mischievous, and brave. Her bravery makes her a kind of role model for Sarah, even though Armelle herself never appears in the novel.
Sarah’s childhood schoolmate. Léon is Jewish and is imprisoned in the Vélodrome along with the Starzynskis. He asks Sarah to escape with him, but she declines. Léon manages to escape successfully.