While I had trouble getting into this book, after I got through the first 100 pages, I could hardly put the book down and completely got sucked in by the story. Sira, the main character, is a young seamstress working for a designer, along with her mother, in Madrid. She is engaged to a nice, young government employee. She meets another man, Ramiro, quite dashing and seductive and breaks off her engagement. He sweeps her off her feet and takes her to Morocco with promises to start a business and dreams of a great life together. He then abandons her in Tangier with unpaid debts and steals all her money and jewels. Sira attempts to run away to Tetuan but has a miscarriage on the bus and ends up in the hospital. The police catches up with her because of the denunciation from the hotel in Tangier where Sira and Ramiro had an unpaid bill. Through a kind police inspector, a debt repayment plan is negotiated and Sira finds a room in a humble pension in Tetuan.
The story is set in the mid-1930s, just as the Spanish Civil War is about to start. Due to the circumstances she finds herself in, Sira is stuck in Tetuan. When she recovers from her miscarriage and with the help of the pension owner, she starts sewing again and develops a clientele of rich expatriate wives, one of which is the British lover of the Spanish High Commissioner. They become friends and through some twists, Sira is reunited with her mother who is taken out of war-torn Spain and brought to Tetuan. Further twists take Sira back to Madrid where she opens a business and becomes a spy for the British.
While Sira is a fictional character, many others in the book are historical figures, among which we find Juan Luis Beigbeder, the Spanish High Commissioner, Rosalinda Fox, his lover, Serrano Suñer, a relative of Franco, who visits Tetuan and later becomes Beigbeder’s rival when both of them are ministers in Franco’s first post-war cabinet.
So this would qualify as a historical novel, given the large part that description of the life and events of those times take in the novel. Rather interesting to compare with the portrayal of life in civil-war Spain in Poniatowska’s Tinissima.
Some more stuff to look into:
There is no shortage of information on these historical figures on the web (well, maybe not so much about Rosalinda Fox).
Now, about the book again: There are quite a few questionable plot twists in this story and you could well question the plausibility of a young seamstress becoming a valuable spy to the British without having any training. If you are willing to suspend disbelief to some extent, then the story is indeed entertaining.
This book has been translated into multiple languages and has been turned into a television mini-series in Spain. Segments of the mini-series can be watched (in Spanish) on YouTube.