Tuesday, November 8, 2011
New Today: The Time in Between by María Dueñas
Sira is an ordinary girl with whom the reader can sympathize strongly, but she comes of age in a turbulent time and place: Spain in the 1930's. From her humble perspective, her only talent is sewing. She is distracted from her calling by a man who unwittingly sets the stage for her to regain her financial security and self esteem by becoming the most fashionable seamstress in Tetouan in Spanish Morocco. There, she meets rich and posh clientele and becomes friends with the lover of the most important man in the Spanish Protectorate, Colonel Beigbeder. Through plausible vicissitudes, her friends rescue her mother from war-torn Madrid, only to send Sira back there in the guise of a Moroccan seamstress who encodes messages about her Nazi customers to British Secret Intelligence in her dress patterns. Surprise visits from her past launch her into her most dangerous mission yet, where she can prove her abilities as a spy. The mission reunites her with the Englishman she loves, but can't allow herself to trust with her secret life.
Sira's naivete throughout most of the first part is not only accurate for her historical context, but also allowed Dueñas to insert just the right balance of that historical context for the reader without ever being dry or overbearing. Overall, it's a balanced, factual approach while still showing the way the events may have impacted the lives of real people. The one place it goes wrong is around Chapter 35, when the narrative gets away from Sira to detail the anguish of Beigbeder when he returns to a not-so-friendly Madrid. This could have been handled differently or taken out all together without taking away from information necessary to understand the story.
I would have liked to read this in the original Spanish, but the translation is well done. Only occasionally did it seem a little too literal, and with so much going on, that sin was easy to overlook. The character Rosalinda Fox's multilingual mishmash presents a special challenge to the translator and Daniel Hahn does a decent job scrambling languages while making her dialogue intelligible to the reader.
The original title, El tiempo entre costuras (literally, "The Time Between Stitches") is more relatable to the story. The reader in English doesn't find out what The Time in Between refers to until the very last line. While the end of the book is a relevant reflection of what has gone before, I can't help thinking there must be a more catchy title to go with this amazing journey.