Character List


Major Characters

Vianne (Rossignol) Mauriac The older daughter of Julien Rossignol and one of the novel’s heroines. Her mother died when she was 14 years old. In due course, Vianne found solace by marrying Antoine Mauriac, whose affection distracted her from the emotional absence of her father and the neediness of her sister, Isabelle. After three miscarriages, she gave birth to a daughter she named Sophie. When Antoine is called away to war, Vianne and Sophie remain in Carriveau, which is soon occupied by the Nazis. Although she at first refuses to resist the Germans in any way and thinks her sister is irresponsible for doing so, Vianne later begins saving the lives of Jewish children by bringing them to an orphanage and providing them with forged identity papers.

Isabelle Rossignol (alias: Juliette Gervaise; codename: the Nightingale) The younger daughter of Julien Rossignol and one of the novel’s heroines. Four years old at the time of her mother’s death, Isabelle was dismissed as an inconvenience by both her father and her sister, Vianne. After being sent to and expelled from a series of girls’ schools, Isabelle puts her rebellious tendencies to use by joining the French resistance movement. Eventually she becomes a passeur, helping Allied airmen shot down over Nazi-occupied France to escape by crossing the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. She is captured and sent to a concentration camp, where she contracts a fatal case of pneumonia. Her camp is freed, and she returns home to see her sister and her lover, Gaëtan, one last time before her death.

Julien Rossignol Father to Vianne and Isabelle, Julien grew emotionally distant from his daughters after his experiences in World War I and the death of his wife. Although his daughters only think of him as a drunkard, he is secretly involved in the French resistance movement, using his skill as a former bookmaker to forge official documents. When Julien learns that Isabelle has been captured by the Nazis and is being interrogated to determine the whereabouts of the Nightingale, he turns himself in to the Nazis and claims to be the Nightingale, condemning his life so that Isabelle’s will be spared.

Wolfgang Beck A Nazi captain who lives in Vianne’s home after the Nazis occupy Carriveau. Although he represents the enemy, Beck is a compassionate and humane figure, and he and Vianne develop a forbidden, unspoken attraction to each other. Beck doesn’t condone the Nazi mistreatment of Jews and tries to warn Vianne and Rachel before Rachel is deported. When an Allied airman is shot down near Carriveau and hidden on Vianne’s property by Isabelle, Beck’s superiors charge him with the task of locating the man. In his search, he discovers Isabelle, and Vianne kills him.

Sturmbannführer Von Richter After Beck’s death, Von Richter takes up residence in Vianne’s home. Unlike Beck, he is cruel and abusive. Once he learns that he can make Vianne do anything by threatening her children, he begins raping her regularly, and Vianne becomes pregnant by him. When it becomes clear that Germany will lose the war, Von Richter evacuates with the rest of the occupying soldiers.

Gaëtan Dubois Isabelle’s love interest and fellow resistance fighter. Gaëtan and Isabelle meet in the woods while she is fleeing Paris, and she decides to follow him to the war front, declaring her love for him. Gaëtan, believing that love is dangerous in war, abandons her. They meet again as colleagues in the resistance effort, and Gaëtan continues refusing Isabelle’s interest in him. Eventually he capitulates and becomes her lover even though he knows they are both risking heartache. At the end of the war, he sees Isabelle one last time before she dies; years later, he names his daughter Isabelle.

Minor Characters

Rachel de Champlain Vianne’s best friend and next-door neighbor. Because Rachel is Jewish, Vianne sees firsthand the horrors that the Nazis inflict on French Jews, and her love for Rachel is part of what finally stirs Vianne out of apathy and encourages her to become involved in the resistance movement. When Rachel learns that she is about to be deported to a concentration camp, she tries to flee with her two children, and her daughter, Sarah, is shot and killed in the attempt. Rachel goes into hiding but unwisely comes out too soon and is seized, leaving behind her son, Ari. She dies in a concentration camp.

Sophie Mauriac Vianne’s daughter. Like her aunt Isabelle, Sophie is less inclined than Vianne to readily obey German authority, and she challenges her mother to take action against the injustices of the Nazis. The war causes Sophie to grow up quickly, especially when her best friend, Sarah de Champlain, is killed. Years later, in approximately 1980, she dies of cancer.

Ariel (Ari) de Champlain (Daniel Mauriac) Rachel’s son, Ari is only an infant when the war begins. After the death of his sister, Sarah, and the arrest of his mother, Ari is adopted by Vianne, who changes his name to Daniel. Beck forges false identity papers for him so that the Nazis will not know he is Jewish. Ari grows up believing that his name is Daniel and that Vianne is his biological mother. At the end of the war, because both of his parents are found dead, he is taken away to live with Jewish relatives in America. Years later, Ari goes to Paris looking for Vianne, whom he has never forgotten.

Madame Micheline Babineau A friend of Isabelle’s mother, Madame Babineau owns a cottage on the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains. She helps Isabelle guide Allied airmen out of France and into Spain. Micheline is captured along with Isabelle, and the two of them are ultimately sent to the same concentration camp, where they encourage each other to stay alive. After the war, she bids Isabelle a final farewell and returns home.

Antoine Mauriac Vianne’s husband. He is conscripted to fight against the Nazis early in the war, then is taken to a prisoner-of-war camp after France surrenders. He returns at the end of the war, so soon after Vianne has become pregnant by Von Richter that Vianne is able to lie and tell him she conceived the child with him.

Julien Mauriac Vianne’s son. In 1995, he is a grown man, a doctor living in Oregon. He joins his mother on her trip to Paris, where he learns that she was an active part of the resistance movement during WWII. Although Julien does not know it, he is the biological child of Von Richter.

Sarah de Champlain Rachel de Champlain’s daughter and Sophie Mauriac’s best friend. When the de Champlains try to escape from Nazi-occupied France, Sarah is shot and killed at a checkpoint.

Marc de Champlain Rachel de Champlain’s husband, who is called away to war with Antoine Mauriac and never returns. Although his character never appears in the story, Rachel and Vianne mention him often.

Madame Dufour A teacher at the French girls’ school from which Isabelle is expelled.

Madame Allard A teacher at the French girls’ school from which Isabelle is expelled.

Christophe A friend of Isabelle in Paris.

Edouard Humbert A friend of Julien Rossignol, who agrees to take Isabelle with his family during the evacuation of Paris. When his car runs out of gasoline, they continue on foot, and he and his family quickly lose Isabelle in the crowd.

Patricia Humbert Edouard Humbert’s wife.

Mother Superior Marie-Therese The head of the Catholic convent and orphanage in Carriveau, she is a counselor to Vianne and later agrees to hide Jewish children at her orphanage if Vianne will forge identity papers for them.

Gilles Fournier A Jewish boy whose family owns the butcher shop in Carriveau until it is taken from them by the Nazis.

Madame Fournier The Jewish butcher’s wife in Carriveau.

Hélène Ruelle A Jewish woman in Carriveau, mother of Jean Georges Ruelle.

Jean Georges Ruelle The Jewish son of Hélène Ruelle. When his mother is sent to a concentration camp, Vianne saves his life by taking him to Mother Marie-Therese and forging new identity papers for him.

Maréchal Pétain A former French war hero and the leader of France’s Nazi-controlled Vichy government.

Général de Gaulle A French general who inspires the French resistance movement.

Sturmbannführer Weldt A Nazi leader who assumes authority in occupied Carriveau.

Henri Navarre A French resistance fighter in Carriveau whom the Nazis discover and hang.

Didier A French resistance fighter in Carriveau.

Monsieur Lévy A French resistance fighter in Paris.

Anouk A French resistance fighter in Paris, she is eventually arrested and placed in a concentration camp.

Monsieur Paretsky A teacher at Vianne’s school who is accused of distributing anti-Nazi propaganda.

Fat Paul A French policeman working with the Nazis.

Torrance MacLeish An Allied airman shot down near Paris and rescued by Isabelle.

Eduardo Isabelle’s guide across the Pyrenees Mountains.

Teddy An Allied airman whom Isabelle guides safely into Spain.

Ed Perkins An Allied airman whom Isabelle guides safely into Spain.

Ian Trufford An Allied airman whom Isabelle guides safely into Spain.

Ian (codename: Tuesday) Isabelle’s contact with MI9, a British government group that aids airmen who have been shot down in Nazi territory.

Keith Johnson An Allied airman shot down near Carriveau. Isabelle tries to save him by hiding him underneath Vianne’s barn, but he dies from wounds inflicted during the crash.

Yvette A baker in Carriveau.

Nathaniel Lerner A man working to unite Jewish children and their families after the war.

Phillipe Horowitz A man working to unite Jewish children and their families after the war.

Isabelle Dubois Gaëtan Dubois’ daughter.

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