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Bella    Until the terrorist attack that killed her brother, Aar, Bella's lived life free of any responsibility.  Bella has it all—she's glamorous, sophisticated, intelligent, and successful.  In many ways, Bella is almost too perfect, which makes it hard for the reader to identify with her.  Bella has a need to control her life, maybe to counteract the things she cannot control, like the terrorist attack. Bella is very reserved for she thinks information is power, so the less someone knows about her, the more power she feels over him or her.  As a result, Bella is very selective about what information she shares with others.  Bella especially likes to have control over men.  She carefully devised and executed a plan to have three lovers which will come to her whenever she wants.  She does not allow herself to become attached to any of these men or to let them affect her emotionally.  Bella also asserts her dominance over her lovers by photographing them in the nude.  Bella also asserts her dominance in the business world and United Nations office by wearing her "power suit".  Although she identifies herself as Somali, Bella is in many ways an anti-stereotype of Somali women as exemplified by her sexual freedom and strength.


Valerie     Aar's estranged wife, Valerie, returns to her children's lives shortly after the terrorist attack.  Valerie is self-centered, irrational, and irresponsible.  There are many times in the novel in which Valerie is very rude. For example, she arrives everywhere late on purpose and asks Bella about personal matters such as whether or not she underwent female circumcision as a baby in Somalia.  Valerie cannot commit to or persevere through anything.  Valerie has never been able to settle down with one person, as shown by her cheating on Aar with Padmini and having relations with another woman in Cape Town.  Valerie's issues with relationships most likely stem from her childhood, when she was sexually abused by her father.  Valerie also fails to manage her finances and accumulates a debt of hotel bills that she and Padmini cannot afford.  When Bella pays to get Valerie and Padmini out of Ugandan prison and takes care of their hotel bill, Valerie is furious rather than grateful.  Valerie is very passive aggressive—she will yell at Bella on the phone then act like nothing is wrong when she visits the house.  While in Nairobi, Valerie takes to heavy drinking just as she did before she left Aar and the children.   Valerie hardly cares for her children and is not equipped to be a parent, so her involvement in the children's lives complicates the story.


Salif    Aar and Valerie's 17-year-old son, Salif, becomes much more mature and closer to a man after his father's death.  In the beginning of the story, Salif is very discourteous.  He often treats people with coldness and hostility, especially when he has not seen them in a while or feels they have done wrong, like when Valerie and Padmini arrive hours later than expected without calling.  He can be very bossy towards his sister, Dahaba, and unsympathetic to her feelings like when she makes a fuss.  Once Bella lectures Salif about his new duties since his father's death, he quickly begins to act more responsible and supportive.  Salif is also very clever and often knows more about a situation than he lets on, like his knowledge of his mother's homosexuality and of Aar's affair with Gunilla.  Salif begins to act more and more like Aar and truly fulfills the role of man of the house.


Dahaba    Dahaba is Aar and Valerie's daughter and Salif's younger sister.  Dahaba has many of the characteristics commonly associated with early-teenage girls—she is naive, excitable, and very sensitive.  She always has a strong opinion which she is eager to share, especially when it regards women's rights. With Dahaba, everything becomes a big ordeal, and she even makes picking between two pairs of pants seem like an impossible task.  Like most girls her age, Dahaba is very emotional and dramatic.  One moment she is in Valerie's arms and the next she is screaming about her abandonment.  Dahaba has a great deal of growing up to do, and a strong, female figure in her life such as Bella may be exactly what she needs.

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