Otto finds himself playing hide-and-seek in a “pear orchard bordered by a dark forest” (Munoz Ryan 2015, 2). The reader assumes that Otto might live somewhere in Germany, as he pays in Pfennig, which used to be a German currency. Besides, the language spoken is German: “Alle, alle auch sind frei” (ibid. 10). The physical location is described to be cold and windy. This description creates a mysterious image in the reader’s head and relates to the magical content of the story.
Moving on to the first story, the setting changes to Trossingen, a town in Baden-Württemberg, located “between the Black Forest and the Swabian Alps” (ibid. 40). Friedrich’s neighborhood is sparsely described. Places like the harmonica factory, his father’s and his uncle’s house and cities like Stuttgart, Berlin and Bern are mentioned.
Secondly, the setting changes to Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania with its initial focus on the orphanage called “The Bishop’s Home for Friendless and Destitute Children” (ibid. 198). The interior is described to be in poor condition since “bedsprings creaked as the lads shifted” (ibid. 198) and the inhabitants have to sleep in narrow beds. The surrounding is rural with several cornfields, although it is only a few hours’ drive away from the city of Philadelphia (ibid. 200). Being used to live in poor conditions, Mike and Frankie are overwhelmed by Eunice Sturbridge’s house on “Amaryllis Drive” (ibid. 257). The change of setting within the story is pictured vividly with the use of many adjectives. Eunice’s house is depicted to be caramel-colored with “a round two-story tower with a cone-shaped roof” (ibid. 257) in “Queen Anne architecture” (ibid. 258).
Thirdly, the setting in the story of Ivy is described to be in Southern California, in La Colonia, “a barrio of whitewashed bungalows on the outskirts of Fresno County” (ibid. 370). The author moves the setting to Orange County, when Ivy and her family move. In comparison to La Colonia, her new home is described as a “place called Better” (ibid. 385). The author creates the apparently improved living conditions by referring to the weather: Orange County has a “blue sky […] and the glare of the sun” (ibid. 400) is evident. Included are also the two campuses of Lincoln School, one being the main campus with “iris plants [and] flower beds” (ibid. 403) and the other one looking like a “warehouse for farm equipment” (ibid. 446. Although Ivy’s living conditions seem to have improved, the reader is confronted with the contradiction of her social environment having deteriorated. Ivy is forced to attend a separate campus, because of prejudices and discriminations on behalf of the school district.
Finally, all three stories culminate in Carnegie Hall in New York City, the final setting. The concert hall is depicted as a magical place with its “lights dimmed” (ibid. 555) and an anticipating audience waiting for the seated orchestra to begin to play.
Muñoz Ryan explains the setting of her novel to be set in “some of the most challenging times in history—Hitler’s Germany, the Great Depression, and the Segregation” (Munoz Ryan, 2016). The reader finds prove for this statement in all chapters of the book. Firstly, by examining the year dates at the beginning of each story, but also in quotes from the text.
Firstly, Friedrich lives in an era, in which Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor a few months ago (cf. Munoz Ryan 2015, 44). Furthermore, his sister talks of being questioned by members of the Nazi Party (ibid. 102) and about the new law back then, called “The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring” (ibid. 100).
Secondly, the period of the Great Depression is pictured in Mike’s story. Many people become impoverished as the landlords are “going to turn [the people] out on the streets” (ibid. 216). These circumstances are described to be “difficult, [as] many people were out of work. Piano lessons became a luxury few could afford” (ibid. 220). In addition, it is mentioned that Mike’s grandmother could barely live of the rent she got, and they were experiencing “hard times” (ibid. 221).
Thirdly, the theme of the Segregation is pictured in the story of Ivy. Prove for this particular era can be found in the description of two separated campuses, whereby Ivy has to attend the worse one because of her Hispanic background.