Fiction – Kindle edition. Translated from the Spanish by Daniel Hahn. Atria Books, 2011. Originally published 2009. 626 pgs. Purchased.
After following her lover from Spain to Morocco, Sira Quiroga is suddenly left abandoned and penniless in the Protectorate at the start of the Spanish civil war. The illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man, Sira is accused by her half-brother of robbing their father and faces prosecution should she secure the funds to return home.
Using her wits and her talents as a seamstress, Sira creates a new identity for herself that connects her to the levers of power within Morocco, including the British secret service. Posing as a Moroccan couture designer, Sira returns to Spain to spy on the socialite wives of German Nazi officers stationed in Madrid. But past liaisons threaten to complicate her new identity and her role in a society fraught with intrigue and suspicion.
I started this novel back in July 2016 as a selection of my book club, reaching the 33% completed mark before setting it aside. (I didn’t note why at the time, but I imagine it had to do with feeling a lack of progress and the passing deadline of a book club meeting.) When I picked the book back up at the beginning of this month, I noted how surprised I was to find how much I remembered from my first attempt.
The vividness of my recollections is likely due to how wonderfully crafted Sira is as a character. Life knocks her down several times, but she always finds the grit and determination to climb back up. Over the course of the novel’s 600+ pages, the reader is privy to her growing maturity and her inventiveness as she works to overcome each hurdle.
Some of those hurdles, though, were quite the slog to get through. The excitement and intrigue of Sira’s situation in the beginning gives way to the minutia of a seamstress’ life, with Dueñas killing time between the Spanish Civil War and the arrival of the Nazis in Madrid.
I kept reading because of Sira as a character and because I thought Sira’s spying on the Nazis would interject badly needed excitement into the story. But I found that storyline to be surprisingly ho-hum and, to be perfectly honest, I was more relieved than anything else to reach the final page of this long-winded story.