Sira Quiroga is a young woman learning her trade as a seamstress from her mother, engaged to a kind and constant if less than exciting man, and living in Madrid on the eve of the civil war that rent the country asunder. A chance encounter with a typewriter salesman sets Sira on a new course, breaking her engagement, meeting her father for the first time, and following her lover to an unexpected life in Morocco. Starting out innocent, naive, and stupidly trusting, Sira is forced by circumstances to adapt, mature, and take control of her own life. She makes influential friends and gains entre into a world she never imagined, one of politics and intrigue in the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco. As the dressmaker to the wives and mistresses of the Spanish officials and the leading Nazis in Africa, she has a front row seat to the rise of Franco and to the machinations behind the scenes as World War Two devastates Europe. Sweeping from Madrid to Morocco and back to Madrid, the scope of the novel is vast and complete.
Duenas' blending of fictional characters and actual historical characters gives a weight to Sira, later known as Arish's, trajectory and character development. The time and places of the novel are fascinating and the truth behind the creation of new spies, people previously unconnected with MI5, is engrossing. The plot is riveting and the narrative tension stays steady throughout the first half, ratcheting up as the stakes increase in the second half of the novel. The secondary characters are appealing and if their functions are sometimes a tad too coincidental with Sira's needs, the appeal and attraction of the story as a whole completely forgives this. Readers may find it takes a while to get into the story but once they do, they will be richly rewarded by this tale of a self-made woman who ultimately helps to plot the course of history.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.