“A typewriter shattered my destiny.”
I once did a brief, informal survey of opening lines in a bookstore. I went up and down the fiction aisles, pulled random books off the shelves, and read the first line. My conclusion: The best opening lines are short. A cliffhanger in one, succinct sentence, before the story even begins. In short, the perfect hook.
That’s how I discovered Maria Dueñas’ The Time in Between. Survey completed, I replaced the book on the shelf and went on with life. Months later, I was still thinking about that line. Fortunately, my local library has a copy, and my curiosity has since been satisfied.
At its essence, you could call it a coming of age story, but that would be oversimplification. It’s really a story of multiple lifetimes, the constant reinvention of the self.
Set during the years of the Spanish Civil War and the beginning of World War II, Sira Quiroga’s story begins in Madrid with a simple but happy life, engaged to a man who adores her. She is then by turns an overnight heiress; mistress of a con man; destitute and pregnant expatriate in Tetouan; dealer of stolen goods; esteemed seamstress of expatriate high society; confidante to the lover of the most powerful man in the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco; and a spy back in her native Madrid.
Although my own story is not so thrilling, I also feel as though I have experienced several lifetimes, not merely chapters in a successive story. And like Sira, I have often contemplated my choices, my mistakes and successes, and the roads that have led me to the present. I have changed so much, learned so much. I still make mistakes, and I am still growing.
Sometimes it is difficult to let go of a former life, but I have come to realize that I am not so much shedding skins as chiseling new facets into my identity. All those former selves are still there somewhere, informing each step into the future. It is this underlying sentiment, perhaps, that makes Sira’s story so universal, despite being firmly grounded in a specific time and a specific place in history (researched extensively if the lengthy bibliography at the end is any indication).
And how did a typewriter change the trajectory of a life? Well, for that, you will have to read The Time in Between for yourself.