Tuesday, June 16, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Time in Between by Maria Duenas

I had to pick a book off my TBR shelf this past week, so I chose one that had been there too long: The Time in Between by Maria Duenas. This novel is set between the world wars in Spain. It’s a time period I’ve been reading more about, but a setting that’s quite new to me. The book was originally published in Spain and it’s very unusual for me to read a Spanish book in translation. So, for all these reasons, I wanted to read this novel. Plus, it sounded intriguing.

Sira Quiroga seems destined for a quiet life in Madrid. The poor daughter of a single mother, she was raised to be a seamstress. But everything changes when she meets an older, handsome, seductive charmer who sweeps her away to the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. Naturally, that relationship ends badly. Sira finds herself abandoned and penniless in a foreign place where she knows no one, and she is unable to return home.

This courageous, beautiful, strong woman is able to rise from the wreckage with the help of kind strangers who become friends. She returns to what she knows, sewing clothes for the wealthy, and makes a name for herself as a designer/dressmaker. (Vague hints of Mademoiselle Chanel here, but the resemblance is only passing.)

As she settles in to her new life, new challenges arise. World War II is on the horizon. Germans have swarmed over Morocco and over Spain. Sira is well-positioned to provide services to the wealthy German wives, and to the wives of top Spanish officials as well. This makes her useful to people looking for information. Recruited to be a spy, Sira returns to Madrid to navigate the dangerous world of political and military secrets.

The Time in Between is a weighty book. It is packed full of historical detail and quite a bit of descriptive detail to make Morocco and Spain come alive. Because of the complexity of the history, there are parts that move rather slowly, but it is well plotted and other parts fly by. Sira is a well drawn character, growing from a somewhat flighty, easily duped young girl to a cynical, intelligent agent who can spy with the best of them. This is an interesting read (and a moving love story also!), well-worth the time invested.