Mara Dueas is the best-selling author of the last decade and, in just six months, ‘Sira’ has already emerged as the book of the year. The key is in Tangier, setting and inspiration from ‘The time between seams’
- Interview “Men have a harder time breaking prejudice with the literature that sells”
Under Spanish-Moorish-style arches, overlooking the strait and peacocks strolling through the garden,Mara Dueassits at a wicker table in the historic Hotel El Minzah. How did i do it Paul Bowles, the American writer who settled in Tangier in 1947 and who also gave his interviews here, settled in the bar seats, with a drink in hand. “The fault that he wrote Sira Tangier has it. When I left the city, I did it with the feeling that here he would leave me many novels without writing, “confesses Dueas on a sunny and hot Tangerine morning.
Yours is a golden tanger, between the dream and the lost paradise. A Tangier that was a free port, free of taxes and customs, with its own statute of International Zone: a condominium established in 1925 and in which half of Europe (Spain, France, Holland, Portugal, Belgium, and the United Kingdom) appeared plus United States and the USSR. In that year, the grandfather of Mara Dueas settled in Tetun, the city where her mother was born and that the family only left with the independence of Morocco in 1956. “Tetun was more Spanish and Tangier more international. languages, there was a great freedom of religions: Jews coexisted with Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox … Foreigners came from everywhere, many writers and intellectuals. It was a Morocco very different from today. Tangier was full of theaters, cinemas and bookstores where you could find censored books in Spain “, explains Dueas.
That world that she did not live was the scenario that prompted her to write when she was a university professor. At age 44, an unknown Mara Dueas published The time between seams (2009), a monumental historical novel that has become a phenomenon of Spanish letters: 10 million readers worldwide, translated into 35 languages (the last one, the Arabic) and adapted to a series. Four novels later, Dueas has become Spain’s best-selling author of the last decade, a throne that had been Carlos Ruiz-Zafn. Your secret? Mix History in capital letters with the smallest stories (the highest level international politics coexists with the lives of seamstresses, thugs and exiles), a dose of drama and love stories (with their betrayals and revenge), plot twists and scenarios that go around the world.
While writing what was to be his fifth novel, a trip to Tangier changed his plans. “I realized that I had self-censured myself. I wanted to talk about Tangier again, even though I had already done so in The time between seams. The only one preventing me was me. So I decided to return hand in hand with Sira. If not, it would have been a betrayal. And although it appears at the end, in the fourth part, Tangier was the reason for writing the book, “he admits. A book that begins with a wedding in Gibraltar and the turbulent years of struggle in British Palestine in the 1940s to go through a London destroyed by war, a Francoist and impoverished Spain (with Eva Pern’s visit included: “It was the most interesting thing that happened that year, 1947, in that gray and famine period”) and, finally, a very Hollywood denouement in some cliffs of Tangier.
Just six months after its publication, Sira has been erected as the book of the year with a first release of half a million copies and eleven editions (the last, 10,000), in addition to 35 scheduled translations. “I am very happy with the reception of the readers, it is wonderful,” says Dueas, discreet and sober, every time she is asked about the success of her novels. Despite the stratospheric figures, the role of best-selling writer or diva does not go with her. On the contrary. In the narrow streets of the medina, where she smells of spices and mint, Mara Dueas unfolds as if she were just another tangerine. They greet her in the carpet store, in the artisan stall, in the market … “Here it is as if time stopped. When I write I return to these streets but in a pixelated way: to an environment, to an atmosphere”, he comments as he goes down a steep white alley.
He knows everything about Tangier, its anecdotes and micro-stories. “Those years of international Tangier have been forgotten. Perhaps because of a misunderstood historical question: Franco was stationed here and perhaps there is a certain rejection … But Spain has done very little over the decades to preserve its legacy and heritage. Even Spanish is very forgotten, it has not been maintained, despite the work of the Cervantes Institute and the fact that there are Spanish schools, “laments the writer. It is not about colonial apology but about preserving a culture: “It is not that Tangier was ours, it is that the Spanish were part of the cultural fabric of the city. And we have forgotten.” The Spanish decadence takes shape in the ruins of the Cervantes Theater, inaugurated in 1913. “For decades it was the largest and most important theater in Africa,” says Dueas as he passes in front of the dilapidated building. The Spanish State let it languish until it practically collapsed and in 2019 it was transferred to Morocco, which began a major rehabilitation operation to restore its splendor.
Because there was a splendid Tangier, through which they passed Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, los beatniks Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and so many more … But in Spain we have forgotten.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism