The Seamstress by María Dueñas

Oh Sira!

I do wish you could have met my grandmother – my father’s mother that is.

You were of the same generation and though she had a much quieter life than you, happy with her home, her family, her church, in a Cornish fishing village, you had one important thing in common. You were both brought up by seamstresses and able, where necessary, to earn you own living as your mothers had.

My grandmother would have loved your book. She liked her novels big – and looked with disdain at anything under five hundred pages – she liked strong characters, high drama, rich emotions, evocative settings … You provided all of that, in more than six hundred pages.

Yes, she would have loved it; her granddaughter rather liked it and, though she had a few reservations, she raced through your story, reading in chunks over an extended period because it isn’t always practical to carry around a book the size of a housebrick.

It is very much to your credit that your story stuck, even when I was reading smaller, more portable books.

Your future seemed mapped out at the beginning. Your mother had raised you alone, and she had done well. You were a very competent seamstress and you were engaged to a sensible, hard-working young man. But two things changed all of that.

You met your father for the first time, and he was able to offer you a great deal for your future. And you met a charming young man. I could see that he was trouble, but you couldn’t. I understood that; you were young, naive and utterly besotted.

And so you ran away together. He took everything you had and then he abandoned you, in a Moroccan hotel. You were in a foreign country with no money and a large hotel bill. You were in trouble.

It was fortunate than there was one policeman who could see to the heart of things. He gave you a chance to work to pay off your debt. And he introduced you to the woman who would get you on to your feet again. Wasn’t Candelaria wonderful? Such a strong practical woman, she discovered your talent for sewing and helped you find the means to earn your living with your needle again.

I loved watching you mature from a foolish girl into a strong, capable woman. Your mother would have been proud, but of course she didn’t know what had become of you. Because civil war had broken out not long after you left Spain.

It was luck you had Rosalinda Fox, first as a client and later as a friend. She was an Englishwoman, the mistress of a German diplomat, and a remarkable woman. At first I thought it would be difficult to sympathise with such a woman, but she had such a wonderful heart and spirit that I had too. And when I learned more of her story everything began to make sense, I understood the woman, and I understood why you valued her friendship so highly.

She had so many contacts, and she was able to help you bring your mother over from Spain. It was clearly a difficult adjustment for your mother, and I wished you had written a little more about that, and your relationship with her.

And of course you had just met the love of your life …

That could have been your happy ending but then, of course, came World War II.

I’m not entirely clear how you ended up back in Spain, set up by British Intelligence as a high-class couturier so that you could spy on the wives of high-ranking German officials.

Maybe I missed something, because I was less interested in this part of your story. It lacked the wonderful characters and the emotional journey of your Moroccan years. And there is a fine line between self-reliance and self-centredness, and there were times when you were on the wrong side of that line.

I must confess that I was pleased when you ran into somebody from the past – something that you were supposed to avoid at all costs – and he pulled you up on your behaviour.

Your cover was compromised and that set up a dramatic conclusion.

I did enjoy your story, but I wish you had told me what had happened to some of the wonderful characters who crossed your path. An afterword would have been lovely, or maybe there’s a sequel on the way?

I’ve already mentioned that I was sorry not to learn more about your mother, her story and your relationship, and I was sorry that after meeting your father back at the beginning of your book he didn’t feature a little more in your story.

There were rather too many loose ends, rather too many unanswered questions, for my taste I’m afraid.

It was a fine piece of storytelling, but that’s why I have to use the word ‘enjoyed’ and not the word ‘loved.’

Maybe your story would have resonated more if I was Spanish, if this was my history, and I understand that your book was a huge hit in your homeland.

And now I have rambled for quite long enough.

So I’ll just say that your story is very readable, and I’m very glad that we met.

5 responses

  1. I’ve just seen that this has been picked as a Richard and Judy autumn book club read so I guess it’ll now receive a wider audience. I like the sound of it and it’s a lovely review you’ve written. I am deterred a little by the thought of another long book though.

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