Mumbai, London, Lumière, and Paris.
So we've got four different locations here, and each of them matches certain things that happen in the story. Except for the beginning of the book, where Hassan tells us about his grandfather during World War II, the story is set in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Now that we've got the timing down, let's check out the geographical terrain Hassan covers.
Welcome to the loud, crowded, dirty city Mumbai, the place that Hassan calls home and the first setting for our book. It's a super important location because it's where Hassan's cultural roots are, the same place where his grandfather and father were raised as well. You can take the boy out of India but you can't take the India out of the boy, and all his life Hassan has strong memories of his childhood that stay with him.
Mumbai is sensational, brimming with bustling markets, crowded streets, and the smell of different foods. It's all larger than life and helter-skelter, just like the Hassan's family. Mumbai sets the stage for some major contrasts as the Hajis venture away from the place they've called home for generations.
When the Hajis leave Mumbai, they head to London. And unfortunately, London isn't exactly the most appealing place. It's kind of a slap in the face as they transition between Eastern and Western culture. Don't believe us? The first thing that Hassan compares London to is a soggy slice of white bread (2.105). And no matter how much you like yourself some toast, there's just no way this is favorable.
The Hajis also aren't staying in Buckingham Palace. They're living with their relatives in the "unofficial headquarters of Britain's Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi community, a flatland in the armpit of Heathrow Airport" (3.9). Here they find a jumbled up mix of the culture that they know, tucked inside a setting that's totally new. Understandably, they find it totally depressing.
Lumière is French for light, which is a totally fitting name for the place where the Hajis find their new home, escaping the dreary streets of London. Lumière is a darling little town in the middle of the Alps, that's small, contained, and kind of untouched by the rest of the world. When Hassan looks out his hospital room window he notes that "It all looked so beautiful, pristine and pure" (10.11). If London is a soggy piece of white bread, then Lumière is like a freshly baked baguette, with a crunchy and crumbling crust and some fresh jam to smear upon it.
Lumière is kind of the Promised Land of our four settings. It's the happy place where the Hajis re-establish themselves and where Hassan is given the opportunity to become a great artist. It's the place where everyone finds harmony, even Madame Mallory. Insofar as it plays such an important role in launching Hassan into the rest of his life, we can understand it as a sort of second home (after Mumbai), and a pretty good one at that.
Paris is the big bad city of Hassan's adult life. Unlike Mumbai, however, where we experience the smells and sounds which Hassan links with being a kid and growing up, we see a more adult side of Paris. And thanks to Mallory's background help, we never really see an ugly side of Paris—it's just not part of the path she's trying to help Hassan follow. This is the Paris of fancy restaurants and minor celebrities, where Hassan opens a ritzy restaurant in an upscale neighborhood and attends (and organizes) a high society dinner event.
The grandness of Paris might lack some of the warmth and intimacy that makes Lumière seem like such a good home for Hassan, but it is in this very elegance that we can recognize that Hassan—like the Paris he inhabits—is at the top of his game. And when he pares back his cooking style, we know that he is truly running the show. After all, he is going against the grain in one of the culinary capitals of the world… and it works.