The English translation of The Time in Between by Maria Duenas came out in 2011. But I only came across it recently when I had the chance to quickly browse the local bookstore (by appointment), looking for some pandemic reading. The Spanish Civil War isn’t a pandemic but it certainly left the citizens of Spain feeling just as disoriented and confused by their new world as anything we’re feeling.
The bulk of the book doesn’t take place in Spain. Early on, our heroine, Sira Quiroga, runs way to Morocco with a charming narcissist who takes all her money, destroys her trust, and leaves her in enormous debt. With the help of a few interesting friends, she’s able to rebuild her life as a high fashion designer and seamstress. Through the connections she makes, she eventually becomes involved in a spy ring, whose goal is to keep Spain out of World War II.
Duenas does a marvelous job of making the reader care about her protagonist and the protagonist’s friends — a colorful, conniving but kindly woman who runs a boarding house; an Arabic housemaid; and a beleagured young man suffering under his abusive, alcoholic mother.
It takes a good long while to get to the intrigue but when we do, the story lifts off the ground and soars. It’s a thrilling tale and also informative. This is an aspect of history about which most Americans know little. I didn’t know about the close ties between Hitler and Franco, or about the English woman who had a hand in stopping the alliance from becoming fatal to her country. I also didn’t know about that Spain had such a powerful presence in Morocco.
My only quibble with the book is a few chapters that provide lengthy digressions into the political troubles of one of the characters. This divergence is entirely unnecessary for the integrity of the story, and it’s unclear whose point of view is providing the information.
Otherwise, this is a fine and absorbing historical novel. Perfect reading for beach or pandemic.