Book Review: The Seamstress
As a keen knitter and stitcher, my eye is always drawn to any book with a hint of these activities in the title.
Recently in the bookshop, the million copy best seller The Seamstress by Maria Dueñas was on the shelf at half price. I had to buy it!
I am long past my phase of reading historical novels but I thought I would give this one a go as part of my holiday reading.
The author is a professor of English. The novel, published in 2009, was originally written in Spanish and translated into English by Daniel Hahn. Unlike many translations, I found this undetectable in the narrative.
It is a tale of adventure, tragedy, love, and war set in Spain, Morocco, and England in the late 1930s. It brings together history and intrigue as turmoil brews in Europe prior to World War II.
Young, poor, naïve, and passive, the central character Sira Quiroga ekes out a living dressmaking with her single mother. Early in the story Sira’s long lost father, a wealthy married business man makes contact and hands her an inheritance.
Not long after, Sira is swept up in a whirlwind romance with her wily lover Ramiro. Fleeing from Madrid together they head to Morocco. Her love for him blinds her to his real failings. Soon abandoned, left penniless and in debt to the authorities, Sira has to rely on the one skill she still processes—sewing.
Taken under the wing of the bullish but caring Candelaria, Sira is able to sew for the glamorous foreign women of Tetouan. She soon becomes a sought-after couture designer for these socialite women, particularly the wives of German Nazi officers.
Privy to their unbridled gossip Sira becomes invaluable to the British Secret Service, a position that is filled with untold risk.
This novel based on a true story and has been well researched with extensive references, including material from interviews carried out with former Spanish Republican prisoners.
I liked this novel because it detailed the fabric of daily life and the shifting alliances of the seedy European expatriate community in Morocco. The characters are clean-cut and well drawn. There is lots of fascinating information on this period of history in Spain and North Africa of which I had very little previous knowledge.
On the down side for me was the small amount about sewing in the narrative. If you are not a regular reader of novels then you may find this book a little heavy going.
I read this novel because I hoped it would have been more like two other novels with sewing/quilting themes with sewing/quilting themes I enjoyed and would recommend as good reads for stitchers, particularly quilters.
My first recommendation is The Last Runaway by Tracey Chevalier, which is set in 1850s America on the eve of the abolition of slavery. It follows the journey from England of a single Quaker woman, and is packed with lots of quilting narrative and social history.
My second recommendations are the 12+ novels by Jennifer Chiaverini which chronicle the lives of a group of women who form the Elm Creek Quilters, a quilting retreat in Pennsylvania. This is packed with quilting stories including a surprising amount of technical information which I found very easy, enjoyable, and light reads.
Jackie Illes, is a new volunteer with Significant Seams who is a registered Occupational Therapist with a passion for quilting, knitting, and anything else textile-related.
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