Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Time in Between by María Dueñas

Title: The Time in Between
Author: María Dueñas
Translator: David Hahn
ISBN: 9781451616880
Publisher: Atria Books, 2011
Hardcover, 624 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: C
Source: Publicist

First Line: A typewriter shattered my destiny.

Sira Quiroga is the daughter of a humble seamstress in Madrid, Spain. From sweeping floors and running errands, Sira grows into an apprenticeship. By the time she's twenty, she's learned her trade and is looking forward to marriage to a government clerk. However, she hasn't learned to resist charismatic men. The father she never knew and a handsome salesman turn her world upside down.

Abandoned in Morocco by the man she loves, the only way Sira can survive is by using her needle. Through hours of hard work and determination, she becomes a respected modiste in Morocco. Catering to the collection of European expatriates trapped there by the war in Spain and the worsening political situation in the rest of Europe lays the groundwork for the next stage in Sira's life. She returns to Madrid, opens an exclusive couturier for Nazi officers' wives, and becomes an undercover agent for the Allies.

This was a very uneven reading experience for me. Its length (624 pages) is not for the weak of heart (or for those with weak wrists). If a story holds my interest, I don't care how long the book is, but this one only held it sporadically.

In many ways, I enjoyed the first section of the book the most. My interest was fully engaged as I learned how Sira grew up, how she fell in love, and how she had to fight hard to make a living after being abandoned in Morocco. The reader's opinion of Sira will make or break this book since she is the narrator. At times I found that her naivete and impulsiveness made me want to slap some sense into her. However, she is honest about how she abandoned a good man for a bad one, and her friendships with Rosalinda and Candelaria as well as her descriptions of starting out in business definitely strengthen the narrative.

But Sira tells us something very important: she is carefully picking and choosing each fact in her story. Some of her choices weaken the book for me. When she becomes couturier for the Nazi officers' wives, it is a case of too much reporting and not enough doing. We're told more about the days the coded messages are delivered and very little about how the information was gathered. It would have added so much to the story to have a scene at the shop when the wives were gathered, relaxed and being served tea, gossiping away, with Sira working-- and listening-- diligently. I wanted to see it happen, not be told about it later.

It also came to the point where the political segments made my eyes glaze over. Sira purposely avoided many areas of Madrid because she didn't want to see what had happened to the city of her birth. There was too much in this book that Sira didn't wish to see, and I didn't appreciate being forced to wear blinders. Moreover, it felt as though Sira kept me at a distance-- as if she didn't really trust me. Granted, being a spy would make a person extremely distrustful, but when that spy is the narrator of a huge novel, distancing the reader can be very off-putting.

When all is said and done, your reaction to the main character of this sweeping historical novel will determine how much you enjoy it. I found much in the book to admire, but in the end, I felt as though Sira had led me down the garden path.


  1. Not sure this is one for me - I agree that a book needs to hold my interest no matter how long (I'm still hanging in there with the War & Peace readalong, LOL).

  2. Cathy - Thanks for this honest and thoughtful review (as ever!). You've put your finger on one of the potential issues with a personal narrative such as this. If you don't like the protagonist, it takes away from the book. I think I'll wait on this one...

  3. I've been reading a book where I just can't understand the protagonist, and it pretty much ruined a good novel for me.

  4. I am so unsure about this one. I think I will probably skip it, at least for now.

  5. I usually like sweeping historical novels as long as the era is one I like. I hope this book can hold my interest as I already have a copy waiting to be read.

  6. Mary-- Tolstoy isn't for everyone, although I happen to be one of his fans. :)

    Margot-- It wasn't so much that I didn't like her. I felt as though she didn't like me and wasn't going to tell me what I wanted to know!

    Barbara-- There has to be a spark somewhere, doesn't there?

    Stephanie-- It might be a good idea. I always say that if I'm unsure about something, I should just leave it alone for a while!

    Leslie-- I'll keep my fingers crossed!

  7. I'm really looking forward to reading this book, but not getting to see things that might be important because the character doesn't want to see them...makes me wonder if the author didn't feel up to including them. I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  8. Anna-- Thanks! I'm also wondering about the same thing as you.

  9. Great review Cathy...I started this one last month, and like you, found it easy to get into, but then for some reason, I lost interest about 1/3 way through. I'm determined to go back and finish it sometime soon (before I forget what I've read) but I'll be more alert as to what's happening now that I have your thoughts.

  10. Tina-- So far we seem to be having the same reaction, so I hope yours is better once you start reading it again.


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