The Seamstress

Maria Duenas

Maria Duenas's million copy best-selling tale of adventure, tragedy, love and war, "The Seamstress". Spain, 1936 and the brink of civil war. Young, poor Sara Quiroga is swept up in a whirlwind romance with her wily love Ramiro. Fleeing Madrid together for Morocco, her love blinds her to his real failings. Soon abandoned, left penniless and in debt to the authorities, she has to rely on the one skill she still possesses: sewing. Taken under the wing of the bullish but caring housekeeper Candelaria, Sara is able to sew for the glamorous foreign English and German women in Tetouan. Privy to their unbridled gossip, Sara becomes invaluable to the British secret service, a position that is filled with untold risk. A story of danger, espionage, romance and war, "The Seamstress" is a WWII tale like no other. "Maria Duenas is a true storyteller. Read this book and prepare to be transported". "Kate Morton, author of "The House at Riverton"). "A wonderful novel with intrigue, love, mystery and tender, audacious and clean-cut characters". (Mario Vargas Llosa). "A magnificent novel that flawlessly brings together history and intrigue". (Juan Gomez-Jurado, author of "The Moses Expedition"). Maria Duenas holds a PhD in English Philology and is currently a professor at the University of Murcia. She has also taught at American universities, is the author of several academic articles, and has participated in various educational, cultural and editorial projects. She is currently writing her second novel.

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Reading Group Questions

Author interview with Richard and Judy

Maria Duenas writes about her favourite books



If you like your novels ‘epic’ (with the word ‘sweeping’ in front) then The Seamstress is for you.

The mark of a really good epic is that however long it is, you don’t want it to end. Even after I’d finished the final chapter (and at 609 pages, this is the longest book I’ve read for quite a while) I would have been happy with a few more.

Maria Duenas begins her marvellous, haunting story in 1920s Spain. Twelve year old Sira lives with her single mother, a seamstress. Gradually the mother passes her skills on to the daughter, and by the time Sira reaches womanhood, her future seems secure. She has a skill and a trade to see her through her days, and a steady, if dull, fiance. Life will not be exciting, but it will be secure.

Then two cataclysmic events overtake Sira. The first is her seduction at the hands of an older man, Ramiro Arribas, the manager of a Madrid typewriter saleroom. He steals her from right under her boring fiance’s nose, stroking, touching, and almost hypnotising her while the boy drones on about the machine the couple have come to buy. It is a wonderful, erotically-charged scene.

Part of the power of Duenas’s storytelling comes from the fact she wrote the original in Spanish. This is a translation, and an excellent one. The authentic whiff of Spain rises from the pages; the passion, the pride, the dusty summer heat and the tragedy of the Spanish civil war. It is a richly satisfying read.


Sira’s affair with Ramiro, heady and exciting at first, swiftly turns into the first great catastrophe of her life. Her lover is a fraud; a con man whose honeyed words and sweet caresses conceal an empty, selfish heart.

Ramiro persuades Sira to abandon her life in Madrid and the couple run away together to Morocco, where they set up in a luxurious hotel. Sira has inherited a large sum of money from her distant father, and we know from that moment her doom is sealed. Ramiro pretends to keep her inheritance safe for her, and promises wonderful investments to make her even richer.

Of course he abandons her at the first opportunity without a peseta to her name. He also leaves her with a huge unpaid hotel bill and Sira has no choice but to flee. She is an innocent abroad and is quickly picked up by the police.

Betrayed and penniless, a second catastrophe overtakes Sira. Civil war has erupted back in Spain and she cannot return home. Stuck in north Africa, she must use her skills as a seamstress to eke out a living.

It is a terrific start to a wonderful book. Maria Duenas goes on to take us and Sira back to a Spain now tearing itself apart, before it succumbs to Franco’s dictatorship. Sira becomes tangled in a shady demi-monde of spying, conspiracy and betrayal, and of course sex and love.

A glowing, totally assured novel, and a complete delight.

Reviews & Comments

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  • I found this book a little difficult to start with as it took some time for me to start enjoying the way it was written. Once I got into it though I was hooked. Just finished it and loved the twists and turns. A superb book.


  • This is the best book I have read in ages. Couldn't take my head out of it, so many things going on that I was enthralled.


  • I enjoyed this book very much. One gets to know the characters very well and the story is told in a way that has one looking forward to the next chapter. Lovely long story too!! I have recommended it to my friends.

    Mary Ballantyne

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