The novel’s protagonist, Frank is a thirteen-year-old Jewish boy who is struck by polio after immigrating with his parents, Ida and Meyer, to Australia as Holocaust refugees. Frank is preternaturally intelligent and mature, possibly… read analysis of Frank Gold
The oldest girl at the Golden Age, Elsa is Frank’s best friend and love interest. Like Frank, Elsa is mature for her age, which manifests in her gravity and judicious reserve. Elsa is a… read analysis of Elsa Briggs
Frank’s mother and Meyer’s wife. The daughter of an affluent Hungarian Jewish family, Ida was once a lauded and diligent pianist looking forward to a brilliant career. The onset of the Holocaust, however… read analysis of Ida Gold
Frank’s father and Ida’s husband, Meyer is a former businessman from Hungary who now works in a factory and as a soft-drinks deliveryman. Meyer is much more relaxed and personable than his wife; even Frank… read analysis of Meyer Gold
Frank’s close friend in the IDB, Sullivan is completely paralyzed and lives in an iron lung. While Sullivan is the son of an affluent and powerful Australian family and Frank is a poor refugee… read analysis of Sullivan Backhouse
Elsa’s mother, characterized by a fierce love and strong instinctual connection with her daughter. A dowdy and scatterbrained woman who wears too-big shoes and always concedes to her overbearing husband, Jack, Margaret isn’t as… read analysis of Margaret Briggs
Elsa’s father and Margaret’s husband, Jack is a gruff and bad-tempered man. He’s unable to comfort his wife and unsympathetic to her requests that he take her to see Elsa more frequently. However, Elsa names… read analysis of Jack Briggs
Jack Briggs’s sister. Because she’s overbearing and slightly wealthier than the rest of the family, he’s attentive and obedient to her, often against Margaret’s wishes. While Nance demeans Margaret throughout the novel, she finally goes… read analysis of Nance Briggs
Elsa’s younger sister. Less innately beautiful and charming than Elsa, Sally has always been resentful of her sister’s connection with their mother, Margaret, as well as her privileges as the eldest daughter. Her tense… read analysis of Sally Briggs
Ida’s piano teacher in Hungary, who hides Frank during the last months of the Holocaust in Budapest. Although she’s enigmatic and not particularly affectionate, Julia’s willingness to shelter a Jewish child during an extremely dangerous… read analysis of Julia Marai
Elizabeth Ann is Sister Penny’s daughter from her brief marriage to Alan Penny. The two women have lived apart for several years, with Elizabeth Ann attending teacher’s college and boarding at the house of… read analysis of Elizabeth Ann
Sister Penny’s judgmental mother-in-law, with whom she and Elizabeth Ann live after Alan Penny dies. In revenge for Sister Penny’s habit of taking lovers instead of getting remarried, on her deathbed Enid bequeaths her house… read analysis of Enid
One of the patients at the Golden Age. Just a little younger than Frank, Warren is obtuse and tactless, especially compared with the other, generally sensitive children. Warren is a frequent source of annoyance… read analysis of Warren Barret
One of the patients at the Golden Age. He has a tense relationship with his father, Mr. Poole, who’s unsympathetic to his son’s disability and criticizes him in front of the whole ward… read analysis of Malcolm Poole
A man to whom Julia Marai gives weekly piano lessons for desperately needed money. He’s likely a Nazi, because he has money when almost everyone else is destitute and because Frank has to hide in… read analysis of Mr. Arpad
Described nebulously as Julia’s “companion,” Hedwiga is either Julia’s friend or partner, with whom she’s shared several decades of her life. It’s Hedwiga’s resourcefulness and ability to scavenge that puts food on the table for Frank during his months in hiding.
A chubby and smiling baby, one of the youngest patients at the Golden Age. Like Ida and Meyer, his parents are immigrants; the two families get along well, even though the urbane and cultured Golds are often scornful of less educated and sophisticated immigrants.
One of the patients at the Golden Age. Because her family misses her and is eager to take her home, she leaves the hospital without all the necessary therapy—meaning it’s unlikely she’ll ever fully regain the ability to walk.
One of the patients at the Golden Age. Elsa resents her for being ostentatiously good and helpful. However, Susan’s strained behavior may be the result of her desire to please her parents, frivolous social climbers who are obviously embarrassed by their daughter’s disease.
A baby, one of the younger patients at the Golden Age.
One of the patients at the Golden Age.
One of the youngest patients at the Golden Age.
A young patient at the Golden Age, who in a fit of homesickness unsuccessfully tries to run away.
One of the nurses at the Golden Age. Hadley is kind but generally uptight, with an overzealous respect for authority. It’s she who catches Frank and Elsa in bed and alerts the governors of the hospital, causing their expulsion.
A nurse at the Golden Age, originally from New Zealand.
The cook at the Golden Age.
Mr. Poole is the father of Malcolm Poole.
Elsa’s baby sister, the youngest Briggs child.
Jack Briggs Jr.
Elsa’s son, the editor of an Australian literary journal who tracks down and interviews Frank as an old man.
A gruff but gentle man, Norm is the gardener at the Golden Age.
Sister Palmer is the nurse who cares for Sullivan and Frank when they’re in the hospital of Perth. Sullivan sees her as a model of duty and altruism but wonders what her thoughts are like when she’s alone.
Meyer’s brother, and one of his few family members to survive the war.
Meyer’s younger sister. After surviving the war in hiding with their father, Suszi is raped to death by Russian soldiers invading Hungary. Even in tranquil or happy moments, Meyer often thinks of the meaningless cruelty of her death.
One of Meyer’s brothers, who does not survive the war.
Sister Penny’s husband, who dies in the first days of World War II.
Janos Gold’s Christian girlfriend, who gets fake papers for Ida during the war.
Ida’s Christian alias under her fake papers.
A night policeman who visits the Golden Age and becomes Sister Penny’s lover.
An American sailor, one of Sister Penny’s lovers during the war.
An older man, one of Sister Penny’s lovers.
The brisk schoolteacher at the Golden Age.
Elizabeth Ann’s best friend, with whose family she boards during college.
Gillian Budd’s older brother, eventually Elizabeth Ann’s fiancé.
The beloved physical therapist at the Golden Age, who drowns in a sudden boating accident.
The Briggs’ neighbor, who gives Margaret a lift to the Golden Age.
The Briggs’ neighbor and mother of Raymond. When Elsa first collapses with polio it’s she who recognizes the signs and calls the ambulance.
Ann Lee’s father.
Rodney and Tikka Bennett
Susan Bennett’s glamorous but flaky parents.
The physical therapist who replaces Lidja at the Golden Age.
Queen Elizabeth II of England, who visits Perth briefly during the summer.
One of Sister Penny’s longstanding lovers.
The owner of a bookstore Frank frequents.
A young girl Frank looks after for several months as an adult, while her mother is hospitalized.