The main setting of this novel is New York City. Leo and Alma Moritz as well as Alma Singer and her family all live in New York. Leo and Alma Moritz are immigrants from Poland. As teens, they lived in Slonim, Poland. (Slonim is now known as Belarus.) Another town that is mentioned is Minsk, Poland. (Today Minsk is also in Belarus and is the capital of Belarus.) Germany was waging war on Europe during the teenage years of Alma Moritz, Leo, and Zvi who all come from Slonim. All three characters are Jewish and their families are killed by the Nazis. Before the Nazis occupied their towner, her family sends Alma to the United States. Leo's mother sends him into hiding, where lives in the woods for three years until the war was over. Leo then also goes to the United States. Zvi leaves Poland for South America, where he meets Rosa.
Zvi lives in Valparaiso, Chile. He starts a new life there, taking odd jobs at first, until he meets Rosa, who is a native. While living in Valparaiso, Zvi translates Leo's manuscript from Yiddish to Spanish, with Rosa's help.
Alma Singer's father, David Singer, and her mother, Charlotte, meet in Israel. Towns such as Haifa, Ramat Gan, and Tel Aviv are places that David and Charlotte explore. At one point while they are dating, David takes Charlotte to the Dead Sea. Charlotte earns her degree in the United Kingdom. Her brother Julian and his wife Frances live in Israel, and Charlotte takes her children to visit them.
The distance between where the present story takes place, New York City, and the homelands of many of the characters accentuates the sense of separation and loss caused by the war. The distance between where Charlotte Singer meets and falls in love with David in Israel and where she lives today with her children in the States also emphasizes the loss of her husband and the disconnect between her past and present.