“El tiempo entre costuras” by María Dueñas 

This one was one of those bestsellers that became so, mainly, with the word of mouth. It was translated to English with the title: “The time in between”. Pity that, in English, the nod to the main character’s craft (she is a dressmaker) is completely lost. It would sound something like “The time in between sewing” and I get it, it does not sound very glamorous, does it?

What is it about?

Sira is just low apprentice dress maker, albeit a good one, in Madrid. She is about to get married to her neighborhood’s fiancé and she wants to become a public servant. Except, she falls in love with this scumbag who ends up bringing her to Tangier and leaving her with a huge debt all alone in a different continent. Here starts her story. I am not big into spoilers, so what I can say is that the book is, broadly speaking, divided into two different acts, one that takes place in the Spanish Moroccan Protectorate, in the city of Tetuan, and another that takes place in Madrid. We follow Sira’s recounts of her struggles and successes during the extremely chaotic period that goes from the Spanish Civil War to the start of the Second World War.

What makes it good?

Firstly, I am a sucker for a good historical novel and this is it (it’s got a bibliography at the end, for fuck’s sake!). Conveniently, you get to experience both wars from far away (the Civil War from Morocco and the Second World War from Spain, neutral for this conflict since already destroyed during the abovementioned Civil War) and this is what makes it so interesting. You get to live the lives of the people who still lived during a conflict and just not at the heart of it. The English and the Germans have big interests in the lowly and tortured Spanish territories and are fighting a silent war to ingratiate themselves with the people in power. And just like that and through the figure of Sira, who is a dressmaker for the rich in Tetuán, you get in touch with many historical figures.

Then, there is the character of Sira. The story is narrated from her point of view and it is fascinating to follow her progression from naïve and young apprentice to full fledged couturier and more (no spoilers!).

The style

Another point in favour of this book is its style, in my opinion. I understand that for some people this might be a bit too wordy and yet, again in my very personal opinion, it’s to be praised. It’s faithful to the style in which I would imagine a woman like Sira to be writing in her mature years. The prose is rich and full of detail and it makes you feel like you are running through the dusty streets of Tetuán or in the international Tangier, or just in her own house, sewing until late at night. Definitely, you can see that the author was an academic, but she uses that experience to her own advantage, creating a world that feels real (sometimes in these historical novels, you do feel like you are reading a highly enhanced or fantasised version of the real world). The nerd in me also greatly appreciates the bibliography at the end.

Final Mark

Loved it, loved it, loved it. Maybe just because it is set in a fascinating period or because I got to go back to my beloved Spain even during such a tough and terrible period. Maybe because, during this period we are living, quite tough and unsettling in its own right, I can read about a time in which people managed to live and to make good out of an awful situation. Maybe because the quiet Sira is a very good character and there is not much romance in this story, just her own struggle in a difficult world. The fact is that I did:

8.5/10

On Goodreads.

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