Father Antonio is an elderly priest Urrutia meets in Spain. Father Antonio, a falconer, comes to oppose the bloody practice of falconry used by the Church to rid their monuments and buildings of pigeons.
María Canales is a socialite and novice author who hosts literary salons in her fashionably decorated home while her American husband, Jimmy Thompson, a secret agent for military dictator Augusto Pinochet, interrogates and tortures political dissidents in the basement. Canales is aware of the torture, but does nothing to stop it. Canales is based on a real-life person, Mariana Callejas, who was married to assassin Michael Townley.
Farewell is the pen name of Mr. González Lamarca, a prominent Chilean literary critic who takes Urrutia under his wing, introducing him to the Chilean literati and making sexual advances toward the young priest. Farewell is satirized as a wealthy landowner and political conservative more concerned with his own ego than with the well-being of his nation as it suffers under a fascist regime.
H. Ibacache is the pen name of Father Urrutia, which he uses for his literary criticism.
Ernst Jünger was a real-life figure, a German hero of World War I and an acclaimed novelist. During the Second World War, Jünger worked for the Nazis in German-occupied Paris. In Bolaño’s narrative, a Chilean diplomat named Don Salvador Reyes recalls meeting Jünger in Paris during World War II and prides himself on having been included in the German’s memoirs.
Pablo Neruda is one of several real-life figures in Bolaño’s narrative. A world-famous Chilean poet, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Neruda also served as a diplomat and Communist Party politician. He died in 1973 only weeks after Pinochet’s coup in Chile. While Neruda is normally viewed as a poet of the people, Bolaño depicts him in a negative light as a self-congratulating elitist. Neruda is shown intoning poems to the moon and enjoying lavish dinners while ignoring the extreme poverty of the peasants on his host’s estate.
Colonel Pérez Latouche
Colonel Pérez Latouche is an officer working for Pinochet who helps arrange for the junta generals to be tutored in Marxism by Urrutia. The Colonel warns Urrutia that the classes must be kept absolutely secret.
General Augusto Pinochet
General Augusto Pinochet was a military dictator who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990 after overthrowing the democratically elected, socialist President Salvador Allende in a bloody coup. During Pinochet’s brutal regime, which was backed by the U.S., at least 3,000 political dissidents were killed or went missing. In Bolaño’s novel, Father Urrutia teaches a course on Marxism to Pinochet and the other members of his military junta. Pinochet claims he needs to learn about it in order to understand his enemy.
Mr. Raef and Mr. Etah
Mr. Raef and Mr. Etah are two mysterious men, whose names spell “Fear” and “Hate” backwards, are partners. They claim to be involved in an import-export business, but are possibly working as agents of General Pinochet. Raef sends Urrutia to Europe to learn about the priests who are using a violent method to rid their churches of pigeons. Later, Raef and Etah arrange for Urrutia to give lessons to Pinochet and his junta.
Don Salvador Reyes
Don Salvador Reyes is a Chilean diplomat and author, a member of Urrutia’s literary circle. Reyes tells of meeting the famous German writer Ernst Jünger in Paris during World War II. Urrutia is greatly impressed by the story, especially by the fact that Jünger included Reyes in his memoirs.
Rodrigo is Father Antonio’s falcon. As Father Antonio lies on his deathbed, Urrutia frees the falcon.
One of the two little sons of María Canales, Sebastián bears the name of Father Urrutia, and as his namesake, is his symbolic offspring and represents the new generation of Chileans, raised in a nation where the elites hobnob, ignoring the horror going on in the basement.
> Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix
The main character of the novel, Urrutia is a Chilean priest, poet, and literary critic. He narrates the story as an old and dying man looking back over his life. He says he wishes to defend himself against slanderous rumors spread about him. Over the course of the novella, narrated in one long, sleepless night, Urrutia wrestles with his own conscience as he confesses his seduction by the Chilean literary elite, his involvement with the controversial religious organization Opus Dei, and finally his service toward brutal military dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
The Wizened Youth
The wizened youth who spreads “slanderous rumors” and makes accusations about Urrutia is never identified. The youth may be Urrutia himself as a younger man, or he may represent author Roberto Bolaño, or more broadly, he may represent the collective conscience of Chile, seeking a brave voice to speak out against injustice.