For those who know me, they will think this is a very unusual book for me to write about – normally the novels I read involve a few castles, plenty of sword fighting, and possibly a great battle or two. Well, this novel couldn’t be further away from that, but after having it recommended by a friend, I gave it a go and really enjoyed it.
The novel describes the life of a young Spanish seamstress, and starts during the build-up to the Spanish civil war of the 1930’s. She then travels to Morocco, which was a Spanish protectorate at the time, and retells her gradual reluctant involvement as Franco’s nationalists gain the upper hand under the influence of the Nazi’s. Finally, as the second world war erupts, she returns to Spain and Portugal after being recruited by the British Secret Intelligence, in a bid to keep Spain from joining the conflict on the Axis’ side.
The great strength of this novel is the depiction of the seamstress. She is neither politically active or motivated by moral zeal, just an ordinary girl who gets swept into the turbulent events of the period. At times in the story she shows great bravery and resourcefulness, but without any bravado or false arrogance, and she never tries to hide her fear of being followed or the terror of discovery. The strain of the double life she leads is also well told, showing the pressures that living under a false identity can put someone under; constantly living a lie and forgetting who they really are.
The novel is well written and full of descriptions of life in the Moroccan Protectorate, war ravaged Spain, and the tight tension of war-time Portugal. It is so well done, you really get a feel for the atmosphere and flavour of the countries described. I slowly gained an understanding of a time and place in history that I previously knew very little about, and an appreciation of the bravery of the Spanish S.O.E agents that helped the British in these times. Knowledge mixed with excitement – isn’t that what all historical novels should be?
The novel can be found at Amazon here.
This novel is also published in the UK as The Seamstress.