Review: The Time In Between

Posted 15 October, 2011 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Time In Between
By: Maria Duenas

Suddenly left abandoned and penniless in Algiers by her lover, Sira Quiroga forges a new identity. Against all odds she becomes the most sought-after couture designer for the socialite wives of German Nazi officers. But she is soon embroiled in a dangerous political conspiracy as she passes information to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses.

I received an advanced reading copy of this novel from GoodReads, which is pretty exciting considering this book has been on my want-to-read pile since I first heard of it back in April thanks to the Guardian‘s New Europe series. It’s always cool to find out about what’s new and generating buzz in different countries. Spoilers ahead!

To start off, this book covers a lot of ground, from Spain to Morocco to Portugal. The time period was also pretty expansive, covering the period before the Civil War and ending just into the Second World War. The scope is impressive, covering a lot of material from this period. Having said that, it does leave the reader feeling a little bogged down by the material; there are chapters that are just dense with information. As a historian, this is not a problem, but as a reader reading for leisure, it can be a little cumbersome at times, especially as this novel is being told in first person. Some of the extra information about the period could have been presented in other ways, such as a newspaper article or relayed by other people, but it does provide the context in which Sira is operating under. Having read other novels from this period, I wished it provided a different approach to the experiences of the Civil War but given that Sira was out of the country through it all, it was understandable. However, Duenas does a wonderful job at providing the international context of the Civil War and its effect on its neighbours and protectorates.

The plot itself was interesting. It took a while to get through the initial stages of the story; while it was informative of how Sira ended up where she was in Morocco, it was pretty predictable, but you do feel bad for her when she ended up penniless and alone in a foreign country. The other characters she comes across over the course of the novel were interesting in their own way, from Felix to Rosalinda. These characters weave in and out of Sira’s story, many of whom sort of disappear into the fog and you never hear from them again; it would’ve been nice to find out what happened to them afterwards but at the same time, if you think about it, realistically a lot of the time when people disappear from our lives, you never really find out what happened to them afterwards.

I liked that Sira was a seamstress; I don’t often read novels where the main character makes dresses for a living, and having her recruited as a spy makes total sense. That plot line doesn’t emerge until a little beyond halfway through the novel, so it’s a bit of a plow to get there. I do wish that some more time was focused on that aspect of her story, because it’s such a cumulation of all the skills she’s learned over the years and through her hardships.

The ending was all right, although I wished it didn’t just end so suddenly; it was vague concerning Sira’s continued involvement in spying for Great Britain and it didn’t mention anything about the people she left behind in Morocco and whether her business continued to flourish there in her absence. The fates of a number of characters were also left uncertain. A proper postscript of the characters’ fates would’ve easily addressed this.

Despite of these minor issues, I enjoyed reading this novel. This period in Spanish history fascinates me and I learned quite a bit about the espionage missions that were taking place during this period by other countries; it gives a sense that Franco’s Spain was not completely out of the loop from the war that was ravaging the European continent. It really picks up about a third in, but the book as a whole is fascinating about one woman’s survival during this period.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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