The author of, and central player in, the diary. Carolina, forty-one years old and the mother of three young children, lives in a favela, or slum,in Brazil. She collects paper scraps to sell in order to buy food and writes in her diary about daily life. In contrast to the other women of the favela, Carolina does not drink, engage in fighting, or otherwise compromise the safety of her children. She has also resolved not to marry. Perceptive, critical, and sometimes dryly humorous, Carolina creates an accurate record of life in the favela.
Carolina’s youngest child. Vera is two when the diary begins, and her longings for nice clothes and food are particularly difficult for Carolina to cope with. At one point, Vera asks to be given to a richer family so that she might have what favela life lacks—a request that pains Carolina.
Carolina’s middle child. José Carlos is almost five when the diary begins. At one point, José Carlos is detained at the local police station for truancy. When Carolina picks him up, she is relieved to find him crying rather than acting like the hardened child-criminals who surround him.
Carolina’s oldest son. João is eight when the diary begins. When a neighbor accuses him of raping her daughter midway through the diary, he is interrogated by the local authorities, who ask prying questions in front of his brother and sister about his knowledge of sex. Nothing comes of the charges by the end of the book.
Carolina’s long-time lover. Manuel appears to be better than the favelados: he doesn’t drink, he works, and he dresses and behaves like a man of a much higher station. Manuel would like to marry Carolina, but her feelings about him fluctuate. On one hand, she thinks very highly of him and has obvious affection for him, though she is fundamentally resistant to the idea of marrying anyone. Manuel grows jealous of Carolina’s relationship with the gypsy Raimundo, though he comes back to her, as she predicts.
The mysterious gypsy who enters Carolina’s life and sweeps her off her feet. Raimundo reverses her stereotypes about gypsies and helps awaken her to her own romantic longings for travels and freedom. Raimundo’s presence reveals Carolina’s more playful side. However, Raimundo is not as perfect as Carolina initially makes him out to be. He’s fickle, can’t be pinned down, and openly pursues other women. When Carolina sees him eyeing a fourteen-year-old girl, she resolves to have nothing more to do with him.
The reporter who helps Carolina get published in a weekly magazine, O Cruziero. Dantas discovers Carolina when he overhears her threatening to put some troublemakers in her “book.”Dantas’s aid also allows Carolina’s diary to be published in book form.
A clergyman from the local Catholic church. Brother Luiz comes to the favela to offer aid and religious instruction, but Carolina thinks he is blind to the needs of the poor.
A disabled beggar who lives in the favela. Euclides reacts to the publication of Carolina’s diary by telling her she is now in his heart and head. He also offers to “keep” Carolina so that she can continue writing, but she turns him down.
A more fortunate friend of Carolina’s. Dona Julita offers aid, food, and companionship to Carolina when she needs it most.
The president of Brazil. President Juscelino is described by Carolina as a bird in a cage, ignorant of the hungry cats (the favelados) who circle around him.
A neighbor woman. Chica accuses Carolina’s son João of raping her daughter.
A neighbor in the favela. Dona Rosa picks fights with Carolina’s children.
A favela woman. Dona Silvia visits Carolina to complain about her children’s poor education.
A man who lives and works in the favela. Orlando is sometimes helpful to Carolina, as when he helps her slaughter a pig, but he is also corrupt. In charge of electricity in the favela, he collects electrical deposits even thought the electric company abolished such deposits years ago. Orlando also reacts negatively to Carolina’s publication and the fact that she accused him of being lazy in her account—he shuts off her electricity for nonpayment of the dubious fees.
A quarrelsome favela woman. Dona Elvira may have had something to do with the burning of some paper that Carolina had collected to sell.
Identified in the diary as Senhor J. A. M. V. Vera’s father is described as a businessman with many employees. Though she respects his wishes not to be identified by name in her diary, Carolina describes how he fails to provide for his daughter and rarely visits.
The two runaways from the public children’s shelter whom Carolina assists during July 1958. Antonio and Nelson tell stories about the horrors of the shelter and impress Carolina and her children. The children realize they’d better behave, and Carolina realizes that she needs to think twice about interning her children at the shelter.
Two young favela women who have turned to prostitution. I. and C. are identified by their initials only, and Carolina tells their story to offer a moral about what happens to people who are not willing to try to better themselves.
A favela man who commits suicide. The fate of Senhor Tomas causes Carolina to become discouraged about her own life.