Jill Bryant, a secretary at the British embassy. Emotionally vulnerable because of a failed marriage and a destructive affair, she is close to Billy, who is supportive but nonthreatening. She loves Guy and has become pregnant by him, but she believes Billy when he tells her that Guy has betrayed her.
Billy Kwan, a freelance cameraman. A half-Chinese, half-Australian dwarf, Billy, though intelligent and caring, is obsessive, controlling, and emotionally unstable. He chooses Guy as a friend and partner, helping him to get started in Jakarta. He idealizes Guy and Jill and believes that he has arranged their love affair; perhaps he has. He also idealizes President Sukarno, believing him to be the savior of his people. When Billy’s delusion becomes apparent, he stages a political protest during which he is killed. He keeps dossiers on subjects and people. The narrator uses these to fill in the gaps in his own knowledge.
Wally O’Sullivan, a correspondent for a Sydney newspaper. The unofficial head of the press corps in Jakarta, the overweight Wally presides over the gatherings in the hotel bar. When Wally is deported because of his taste for Indonesian young men, it is generally believed that Billy betrayed him.
Pete Curtis, a Canadian journalist who works for The Washington Post. Curtis is Hamilton’s main competition, and they are friendly rivals. Curtis is not very sensitive to others and often visits Indonesian prostitutes.
Colonel Ralph Henderson, a military attaché at the British embassy. His pukka sahib demeanor suggests the remnants of the British Empire. He, too, is attached to Jill.
Kumar, Hamilton’s Indonesian assistant, a member of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party. Kumar arranges a meeting between Guy and Vera Chostiakov. Kumar acutely perceives the Western advantages that his country lacks.
Vera Chostiakov, a cultural attaché at the Soviet embassy. She uses her sexual attractiveness to try to get information from Guy about a Chinese arms shipment to the PKI. Her play for Guy leads Billy to believe Guy to be false.
Sukarno, the Indonesian president. A charismatic man, he attempts to build a powerful Indonesian self-image but eventually loses touch with his people and lets political schemes overtake him.
Ibu, an Indonesian woman. Ibu (which means “mother” in Indonesian) represents the poor for Billy, and her fate impels Billy to undertake his rebellion against Sukarno.
R. J. Cook, the narrator, a correspondent for a news agency. A divorced, lapsed Catholic, he becomes confessor, or confidant, to the members of the press corps. His knowledge of his colleagues, combined with information from Billy’s files, allows him to write this account.