Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Time in Between

The Time In Between / Maria Duenas;
trans. from the Spanish by Daniel Hahn
NY: Atria, 2011, c2009.
615 p.
This sprawling saga was exactly the satisfying read that I was looking for. It follows Sira Quiroga, a young woman who grows up as a dressmaker's apprentice alongside her mother, in prerevolutionary Spain. She doesn't know who her father is, at least not until she is in her late teens.

When she becomes engaged to a quiet, meek young man of her own social class, she thinks she knows how the future will unroll. But she's so wrong. When they go to buy a typewriter (her fiancé is convinced that learning to type so that she can become a civil servant rather than a dressmaker is the best idea for them) she meets a charming, charismatic salesman. And her life changes.

As the civil war in Spain heats up, Sira and her lover flee to Morocco; then Sira moves on when she's abandoned, to form a new life as a society dressmaker -- which requires quite a few shenanigans to get started. And her dressmaking leads her to more: to spying, using her dress patterns and sketches to communicate her results.

The story is a series of obstacles put into Sira's way, and the revelation that she can manage all of them despite thinking of herself as a meek girl from the lower working classes. She forms and reforms herself to shape her life to what is given to her. She's a fascinating character, a very likeable main character who does what she has to but never hardens. The setting is fabulous -- I learned a lot about Spain in the era, including the geographical as well as political realities.

Sira even goes to Portugal near the end, to act as a spy in the guise of a fabric buyer; there are barely any good materials left in Spain. Her fake name is quite literally her real name backwards, which seems just a bit amateur to me. But she infiltrates the office of the man she's to track down. However, as a good dressmaker, she's distracted by the quality of the silks and fabrics he has for her and for a moment forgets the other part of her mission. I could relate!

I loved the way that sewing is an integral part of this story, not just a tacked on profession to give the main character something to do. Her sewing and designing changes her life, it gives her the ability to reinvent and better herself, to continue to live and to create, and leads to her involvement in the spy world. In the disaster of war and abandonment, she finds herself again when she picks up her needle once more:

There is verisimilitude to the sewing parts that makes me feel that I can trust the other more historical elements as well. It's an entertaining, absorbing spy novel; a historical context which breathes; and has some fabulous characters. I really loved this one and the 615 pages flew by as I could not put it down. It has romance, intrigue, smoothly flowing writing, a great setting, and strong female characters. Recommended!


  1. I started this and DNF a couple of years ago - got as far as the typewriter store. Maybe I should give it another try.

    1. I guess I was just in the exact right mood for this one right now :) I thought it really picked up once Sira got to Morocco, though.

  2. I wonder if my 14-year-old would like this. She is more into mysteries, crime and spy stories than I am, and she loves sewing and clothing design. Would you say there's any material in it, inappropriate for a teenager... ?

    1. It's hard to say -- I generally leave those judgements up to the parents. However, while there is a lot of implied sexual content, it is never explicit or crudely expressed. And of course it's wartime so there is violent activity going on. It depends on what you think your daughter can handle -- I would say as far as war novels go this is pretty mild.

  3. Crude sexual content is more what I was worried about. What do you know- I just looked- my library has a copy. I'll give it a peek first. Thanks!

    1. Great! It should make it easier looking it over first, but I hope it would be okay.


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