Maria Dueñas’ Wartime Spy Novel “The Time In Between” Travels Back to 1930s Tangiers

by | Sep 7, 2023

An aerial view of cityscape Tangier surrounded by buildings and water
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Last updated on March 1st, 2024

Featured image: Most of the book takes place in Tangiers, Moroccco | Photo from Envato  

Historical espionage novel features women 

by Carolyn Ray

Published in Spanish in 2009, The Time In Between catapulted María Dueñas, a debut author, to the top of Spain’s bestseller lists. It follows the adventures of Sira Quiroga, a naive Madrileña seamstress turned skillful spy who, through a series of misfortunes, finds herself stuck in Morocco around the time of the Spanish Civil War.

I discovered The Time In Between at a bookstore in Malaga last year and couldn’t put it down. Combined with my travels, it shifted my perspective on Spain. While the novel weighs in at 600 pages, it draws you in with strong storytelling and descriptions of Madrid and Tangiers in the 1930s and 1940s.  Not to mention it features real characters, including British spy Rosalina Fox, the lover of Colonel Juan Luis Beigbeder, who became minister for the exterior in the Government of Francisco Franco, which makes for fascinating reading. 

Set mostly in Tangier, this sweeping novel, which combines the storytelling power of The Shadow of the Wind with the irresistible romance of Casablanca, moves at an unstoppable pace. Suddenly left abandoned and penniless in Morocco by her lover, Sira Quiroga forges a new identity. Against all odds she becomes the most sought-after couture designer for the socialite wives of German Nazi officers. But she is soon embroiled in a dangerous political conspiracy as she passes information to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses.

About the Author

María Dueñas Vinuesa was born on 1964 in Puertollano, Spain. She is marrried with Manuel Ballesteros, also a professor, and they have two children, the family lives in Cartagena. She is a professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Murcia, and is also an academic author and has worked at different universities in North America. She came into the spotlight in 2009, achieving great success in Spain thanks to her first novel, El tiempo entre costuras, published in English language as The Time In Between and The Seamstress, a historical espionage novel, which sold more than a million copies. It has already been translated into more than 25 different languages.

Book Club Discussion Questions

  1. Did you enjoy The Time In Between? As a historical fiction novel, did it change your understanding of Spain?
  2. The first sentence of the book, “A typewriter shattered my destiny” is an example of the author’s use of foreshadowing of future events. Were you immediately drawn into the story? Were you curious to know whose destiny was shattered and why?
  3. Sira is a couture designer born on June 8, 1911. The story ends in the early 1940s. Discuss how the world of fashion and Sira changed with the political situation of the time (see pgs.7, 143,155).
  4. Maria Duenas is an academic. Does knowing this influence your reading of the story? If so, in what ways?
  5. How did the author give us insight into the political situation in Madrid and Morocco during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s and early World War II?
  6. The story talks about how Sira re-invented herself. How was Sira Quiroga different from Arish Agoriuq? Have you ever needed to reinvent yourself?
  7. Do you believe in luck? Rosalinda Fox says to Sira on page 197, “Sometimes luck decides to make our decisions for us, no? Asi es la vida. That’s life, no?” Do you agree with that statement? Discuss how luck may have played a role in each of their lives. What role does luck play in your life?
  8. There are many real characters in this book, including Rosalind Fox? Does knowing that these are real people your perception of her?
  9. Sira does extraordinary things in her lifetime. Does this make her a heroine? Or, is she simply acting based on circumstances?
  10. Did you watch the movie version of The Time In Between ? How did you find it differed from the book, or not
  11. Did the book make you want to travel to Spain or Morocco?

More on Spain and Morocco

As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.

1 Comment

  1. Kathleen Griffin

    “A death in the Medina”, by James Von Leyden, is a detective thriller set in Marrakech, Morocco. Well-written, it is both entertaining and informative.


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