Other than the very beginning and end of the story, which take place in Paris, the setting of the story is in South America, mainly Paraguay in the mid-1850s. The main characters move from cities like Asuncion and Buenos Ayres to small villages, like San Fernando. There is urban sophistication and rural simplicity. There is total isolation and contact with the world. There are also many battle scenes, showing trench warfare, navy river engagements, swamp marches and hilltop sieges. There are horrendous places mentioned, like torture prisons and miserable field hospitals. The story details the difficulty of simply moving from place to place in the mostly wild terrain of the South American interior.