- Anil Tissera is a young Sri Lankan woman who has been absent from her homeland for many years. A forensic pathologist, she returns to Sri Lanka with an international human rights organization in order to research various murders that are connected to the civil war. Anil works alongside a local official, Sarath. Together they are determined to discover the identity of Sailor, a murder victim’s skeleton. Throughout the novel, there are various references to Anil’s life in America as well as in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka she had been a prodigal swimmer but left to pursue an education in the west. During her stay in America, she became involved in a relationship with a married man, Cullis. The narrative often refers back to this doomed relationship as she tries to cope with the destruction in Sri Lanka.
- Sarath Diyasena is a local official who works with Anil to investigate the string of murders in Sri Lanka. His character often seems distant and tortured due to his personal history. His wife died and the narrative later confirms that she committed suicide. Additionally, his political affiliations are ambiguous throughout a majority of the novel and it is unclear if he is a friend or foe to Anil’s investigation. During their investigation, Sarath seeks guidance from a former teacher, Palipana. By the conclusion of the novel, Sarath can be seen as a martyr. He places his own safety in jeopardy to assure Anil’s investigation and so his loyalty to justice and morality are validated.
- Palipana is an epigraphist and a former teacher to Sarath. Palipana lives much like a hermit in what appear to be ruins near Anuradhapura, an ancient capital of Sri Lanka, with his niece. Though he is now blind he had once been Sarath’s most challenging instructor. Anil and Sarath seek guidance from him with their investigation and he instructs them to find a sculptor/ painter to recreate Sailor’s face.
- Ananda was once a sculptor and painter who partook in a traditional ceremony of painting eyes on statues to give them life. However he is now a drunk, due to the disappearance of his wife, Sirissa, amidst the other atrocities of the war. He is hired by Anil and Sarath to recreate Sailor’s face. Ananda often clashes with Anil but helps her nonetheless to give the anonymous victim a face and identity. When Ananda finally completes the recreation of the face he gives it a peaceful face because that is the peace he wishes for his disappeared wife. Shortly after the face’s completion, he slashes his throat in a suicidal attempt, only to be rescued by Anil’s and Sarath’s efforts.
- Gamini, also known as "The Mouse", is Sarath’s younger brother. He is an efficient doctor, who since a young age has been living in Sarath’s shadow. He helps Anil and Sarath care for a man named Gunesena who they found brutally wounded on a road. Gamini had been in love with Sarath’s wife and attended to her when she was rushed to the hospital during her suicide. He was there with her when she died. After being left by his own wife he spends the vast majority of his time in the Emergency Services department of the hospital- even sleeping there. He is also addicted to speed.
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