We’re only three months into the year, but I’m already certain that The Time In Between by María Dueñas will be among my favorites of 2017. Originally published in Spanish in 2009, The Time In Between has since become an international bestseller, and for good reason.
The novel spans a decade as Sira Quiroga grows up – not only into a self-sufficient woman, but also into an unexpected hero of World War II.
It begins in 1931 in Madrid, when Sira is just 20 years old. She’s a seamstress, but she and her single mother are poor. When Sira becomes engaged to Ignacio, a man planning to work in the government, it looks like Sira has a chance at upward mobility and a stable life. However, Sira makes some questionable choices, leaving Ignacio for another man ten years her senior. Ramiro seems charming, but he’s a sketchy man. When Sira suddenly gets an inheritance from her wealthy but uninvolved father, she makes the mistake of telling Ramiro, who wants to invest it in a typewriter business.
In 1936, she and Ramiro run off to Morocco with grand illusions of where their business will take them. But after a few months of living in a hotel, Sira discovers she’s pregnant. She never gets to share her happy news, though. Upon returning to the hotel, she finds that Ramiro has up and left, taking all her money and leaving her with tons of debt and a broken heart. This is the first step to Sira’s transformation.
Disoriented, she ends up at a hospital, no longer pregnant, but facing criminal prosecution if she doesn’t pay off her debts. She can’t return to Spain, as the borders have closed since she arrived in Morocco, thanks to the Spanish Civil War that started in July. Alas, she’ll have to stay in Tetouan, live in a boarding house, and work to pay back the money owed to the hotel and her scammed business partners.
All of this sets the stage for Sira to slowly rise up and eventually become a successful dressmaker and homeowner. But her story is just getting started, and as The Time In Between moves forward, we watch as Sira becomes involved in espionage, helping the British in World War II as she spies on upper class Nazis and sends secret messages hidden in her dresses. She gets into some dangerous situations – first in Morocco, then upon her return to Spain and on a mission to Portugal. But through the years, Sira has grown wiser, more clever, and braver.
It’s empowering to see Sira grow so much – both as a person and within her roles in life. Despite her early naïveté and foolish choices, she transforms into a character you can’t help but cheer on, celebrating her victories and successes even as she takes on the next challenge.
Despite its length – over 600 pages – The Time In Between always holds the reader’s attention as the story twists and turns. It’s a superbly well-written novel, its language dreamlike even as the action picks up. But this dreamy language never teeters into the dull or forgettable; instead, it balances the onslaught of events and clues, allowing the reader to shut out the rest of the world and inhabit this one for a little while.
Characters you think are gone forever make unexpected returns, sometimes in the form of a happy reunion, and sometimes with a plan for vengeance. Friends and foes switch sides, and the political climate keeps Sira on her toes. Indeed, it’s an intricate novel that brings together details about a tumultuous time in European and North African history.
The Time In Between is a masterful debut novel, and one that everyone should read. It’s as informative as it is engrossing, and you’ll delight at being immersed in Sira’s world. María Dueñas is an incredible author, and I’ll certainly be devouring her other novels in the near future. But on top of that, The Time In Between is a novel worth revisiting, and after one read-through, you’ll be certain to add it to your favorites and save it for another read down the road, too.