This is a fun, lively work of historical fiction, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It follows the adventures of Sira Quiroga, who in the 1930s is a young, immature Spanish seamstress from a working-class background. She makes some poor life decisions which leave her alone in Morocco, indebted and unable to leave the country, and through a combination of dangerous adventures and hard work, manages to grow up and open a high-class dressmaking business. Which comes in handy for the Allies in World War II, when she is recruited as a spy.
I am typically less critical of books I read in Spanish, since the language requires much more concentration from me than English; this book I enjoyed almost entirely for its fun and sometimes exciting plot, rather than for any exceptional character development or insight into human psychology. But it is a lively and enjoyable plot, and I was quickly immersed in Sira’s struggles. The book provides a satisfying balance between lighter and darker elements: unlike in a lot of historical fiction, which focuses on the wealthy and privileged, the obstacles Sira faces are major and the stakes often high, but at the same time she builds a support network that keeps her story from ever becoming too dark. Similarly, most of the book takes place against a backdrop of war, but Sira waits out the Spanish Civil War in Morocco and spends WWII in Spain, so never encounters war firsthand. It’s a balance, in other words, that allows the story to be gripping without being brutal, and fun without being frivolous.
It’s also a good choice for readers who like to learn about a historical place and time through fiction: even while Sira has her own personal struggles, the book is engaged with its historical milieu, and real historical figures play major secondary roles. It does tend to assume (at least in the Spanish edition) some knowledge of the Spanish Civil War, prompting me to do a little of my own research. And I certainly learned from it; I had little knowledge about the bond between Franco and Nazi Germany, for instance, nor how close Spain was to entering the war on the Axis side. The author’s background is as a professor, and she does an excellent job of combining rigorous research with great storytelling.
Overall, this isn’t a life-changing book for me and it’s one I’ll remember more for its enjoyable plot than other literary accomplishments, though in terms of writing style and especially doing the research it is a cut above the general run of historical fiction. I enjoyed and would recommend it.