Sira Quiroga is raised by a single parent. Her mother is very resourceful and supports herself and her daughter as a seamstress. Sira is taught from a young age how to handle a needle:
“I learned fast. I had agile fingers that adapted quickly to the shape of the needles and the touch of the fabrics. To measurements, draping, and volumes…At sixteen I learned to tell fabrics apart, at seventeen to appreciate their qualities and calibrate their possibilities. Crepe de chine, silk muslin, georgette, Chantilly lace. Months passed as if turning on a Ferris wheel: autumns spent making coats in fine fabrics and between=-season dresses, springs sewing flighty dresses destined for long, faraway Cantabrian holidays…”
Sira becomes engaged and life is becoming very secure, until a fatal meeting one day changes her entire focus. Her choices spiral into Sira learning how to navigate not only the hard circumstances of life but also how to support herself, become independent, and even become a valuable informant for the British secret service during World War 2.
“We thought that you could set up an atelier in Madrid and sew for the wives of the high-ranking Nazis.”
My throat closed up… When I was finally able to speak, only four words came out. “You’re both raving mad.”
Lots of Spanish history here (I have to admit I got a little bogged down in the middle, making me even more determined to brush up on my history!), lots of political intrigue interspersed with character development and conflict and risky adventurous-spying exploits. There are descriptions of Morocco, Tangiers, and Madrid and the distressing effects of the Spanish Civil War. And there is real-life drama too: Sira meets her biological father and her lack of resentment of his childhood neglect allows her to develop a mutually-satisfying relationship with him.
Although I could not applaud all of Sira’s choices I did appreciate and enjoy her development as a character determined to make her way and contribute to her country’s stability. A long historical novel that I found hard to put down!