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When I Lived in Modern Times [Paperback]

Linda Grant
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

9 Oct 2000
It is April 1946. Evelyn Sert, 20 years old, a hairdresser from Soho sails for Palestine where Jewish refugees and idealists are gathering from across Europe to start a new life in a brand new country.

Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (9 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862074046
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862074040
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 33,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Linda Grant was born in Liverpool on 15 February 1951, the child of Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants. She was educated at the Belvedere School (GDST), read English at the University of York, completed an M.A. in English at MacMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and did further post-graduate studies at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, where she lived from 1977 to 1984.

Her first book, Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution was published in 1993. Her first novel, The Cast Iron Shore, published in 1996, won the David Higham First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize. Remind Me Who I am Again, an account of her mother's decline into dementia and the role that memory plays in creating family history, was published in 1998 and won the MIND/Allen Lane Book of the Year award and the Age Concern Book of the Year award. Her second novel, When I Lived in Modern Times, set in Tel Aviv in the last years of the British Mandate, published in March 2000, won the Orange Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly Prize and the Encore Prize. Her novel, Still Here, published in 2002, was longlisted for the Booker Prize. Her non-fiction work, The People On The Street: A Writer's View of Israel, published in 2006, won the Lettre Ulysses Prize for Literary Reportage. Her Booker Prize shortlisted novel, The Clothes On Their Backs, was published in February 2008. Linda's most recent book, The Thoughful Dresser was published in March 2009.

She has written a radio play, Paul and Yolande, which was broadcast on Radio 4 in October 2006, and a short story, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, part of a week of stories by Liverpool writers commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Beatles, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, broadcast in July 2007.

She has also contributed to various collections of essays. Her work is translated into French, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Czech, Russian, Polish, Turkish and Chinese.


The Clothes On Their Backs Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008
Winner South Bank Show Award

The People on the Street:
A Writer's View of Israel Lettre Ulysses Prize for Literary Reportage

When I Lived in Modern Times Winner, Orange Prize for Fiction 2000

Shorlisted: Jewish Quarterly Prize

Encore Prize

Remind Me Who I Am, Again Mind Book of the Year 1999

Age Concern Book of the Year 1999

The Cast Iron Shore David Higham First Novel Prize

Shortlisted Guardian Fiction Prize

Product Description

Amazon Review

In April, 1946 Evelyn Sert, a 20-year-old East End London hairdresser, sets out for Palestine. "This is my story", she writes, "Scratch a Jew and you've got a story". Evelyn's story in Linda Grant's When I Lived in Modern Times is no less complicated than that of any other displaced European Jew in the post-war years--separated from her family and searching for some kind of reliable identity for herself in an inhospitable new land. In shining modern Bauhaus-influenced Tel Aviv she finds that she is more English than Israeli and she becomes Priscilla Jones, a peroxided English girl with an absent policeman husband. She is at her most "real", it seems, when pretending, revelling in her ability to be entirely accepted among the English women whose hair she cuts and curls. Beyond their petty and casually anti-semitic circle, by contrast, she struggles with Hebrew, the heat, the unfamiliar food and alien, exotic way of life.

But in Palestine the English are the enemy and Evelyn is drawn into a world of shifting identities, lies and secrets by her passionate Zionist boyfriend Johnny. Even then, she is never quite sure which side she is on, or where she belongs.

Linda Grant writes with quiet assurance and a strong sense of purpose. Her Tel Aviv is a city of contradictions and of hope. Her heroine is a fully believable figure, a chameleon character of a kind readily recognisable to those of us who grew up as part of the seismic displacement of peoples that accompanied World War Two, as also, probably, to anyone who has been caught up in the more recent exoduses from Bosnia, Kosova and Albania. Linda Grant won the 2000 Orange Prize for Fiction for When I Lived in Modern Times. --Lisa Jardine

From the Publisher

'...a decent, intelligent love story, intimately expressed.' Observer

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A subtle and complex work 9 July 2001
By A Customer
I am quite perplexed at the confusion there seems to be about this book. Having read it at the time it came out, it seemed obvious that what it is about is the birth and death of idealism. Evelyn Sert is girl with no past going to a country which she (and many Jews in that era) believed had no past either. Gradually, she becomes aware that the simplistic ideas she had about the Promised Land are either wrong or more complex than she'd first thought. Palestine is full of refugees cut off from their homes and their histories, believing only in the future, because, as the author says, the past (this is 1946 remember, only a year after the Holocaust) was a total nightmare. All their faith is in the shining white city of Tel Aviv and in the marvellous last chapter when Evelyn returns there in old age we see that it is this city which is the true metaphor for the book.
This is a complex work full of moral ambiguities and paradoxes. In an age of nationalism, when people all over the world where defining themselves by the birth of new countries, Evelyn sees herself as an Israeli but can't get round the fact that she has more in common with the hated and anti-semitic British.As the child of British parents who grew up in Ireland, I can identify with many of Evelyn's confusions.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is the best novel I read in 2000, and deserves the Orange Prize and should have been shortlisted for Booker. An enthralling tale set in Tel Aviv at the foundation of Israel, it is narrated by Evelyn, a hairdresser who is Jewish but who can pass for a Gentile. She falls in love with a terrorist, and has a passionate affair with him before violence forces them apart. What is wonderful about this novel is the intelligence and passion with with it is written. The heat and light and purity of the new city are vividly evoked. So is the intensity of an all-consuming love affair. It feeds both the mind and the heart. I have been enraged by the way male critics, especially Robert McCrum of the Observer have sneered at the novel without, by his own admission in his column, having read it - because he thought Zadie Smith should have won the Orange instead. This is a wonderful, wonderful novel which neither my husband nor I nor anyone we lent it to could put down. It deserves to be a best-seller.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Flawed 29 Mar 2004
In many ways this is an interesting read - it takes an original slant on recent history and presents an unusual version of events. I just wanted to add a couple of other comments:-
I found references to holocaust survivors to be very revealing - often viewed (quite understandably) as angels - they are portrayed here as wild, individualistic and tough - refusing to obey rules and share work or luxuries - as a result of the dreadful 'communal living' in the camps.
What has not been mentioned so far in the reviews, and is not really touched on at all in the book, is of course, the Palestinian people. Those who were displaced by the displaced, as Edward Said described his own people "the victims of the victims".
In this respect, the book is guilty of the sins of many older books about colonisation - treating the 'natives' as an irrelevance. Many older texts have the excuse of the historical and cultural environment in which they were written. Grant cannot claim the same excuse.
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1.0 out of 5 stars unconvincing 2 Mar 2014
As a reader who has lived in those modern times both in Britain (and for decades) in Israel, I found the book utterly superficial , a tourist's eye view of the country, packed with journalistic cliches.- a caricature of the time and place. The only part I found 'well researched' was the account of hairdressing. That at least had the ring of authenticity. The central character was so vaguely described as to be almost invisible, the sex passages clearly put in to sell the book, and the plot non existent.
It seems to me that the main reason it was awarded the prize (apart from Zadie Smith's sudden withdrawal from the field) was that it corresponds to many readers' ignorance about Palestine and Israel. I'm not at all surprised that Grant lifted whole passages from Sherman's book- she had to fill an empty space.
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4.0 out of 5 stars When I lived in Modern Times, Great 28 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Loved this book, well written, well observed, humour which helped the story move along. I was pleased to learn more of this part history, and although a novel, I felt it to be well researched and an accurate picture of what was going on at the time.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I‚€™d recommend this book as an enjoyable way of finding out about Israel‚€™s recent history.
The story is told by Evelyn Sert, a young Jew who leaves post-war London excited about a new life in the Promised Land. At first I found Evelyn‚€™s naivete irritating, especially in her unquestioning relationship with Jonny, a headstrong Zionist terrorist. However as the book went on I realised that seeing Tel Aviv through Evelyn‚€™s optimistic eyes made the background events all the more powerful. In particular, she gives the reader glimpses of the shocking history that led to the exodus of Jews to Israel after the war. At one point she makes only a passing reference to the concentration camp survivors who turn up at her kibbutz, but it leaves us with a lingering sense of the ordeal it took to bring them there. The Arabs too are just a backdrop to Evelyn‚€™s story ‚€" the people selling watermelons in the street or living in outlying villages that she and Jonny zoom through on his motorbike ‚€" but the very way in which she dismisses them reinforces the fact that they are as much the displaced people in Israel as the Jews arriving there from all over Europe to set up a new life.
Eveyln‚€™s tale is caught up with her infatuation with Jonny and her efforts to fit into her new life ‚€" which is a good story in itself, but the story I enjoyed even more was that of Tel Aviv in all the topsy turviness that the book reveals.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent, even better than I remembered from when I read it years ago.
Published 4 days ago by H S D Grimsditch
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I found it breath taking. Grown up, intelligent, informative read. I just finished it so can't think clearly yet, but I loved it. Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2011 by E.H.
5.0 out of 5 stars story of a London girl and the birth of a nation
Thoroughly enjoyable account of a time of flux and chaos as the British look for a way out and the survivors of the Holocaust look for a way in. Read more
Published on 15 Feb 2011 by bushman
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping.
Brings to life the glistening Bauhaus 'White City' of 1940s Tel-Aviv like no other book I've yet read. Read more
Published on 16 Oct 2010 by Paul Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
A great account of the birth of Israel with great characters and most of all a fantastic pace. Every page has a wonder of its own.
Published on 3 Jun 2007 by Reader
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing but readable
This book was recommended to me by a friend who normally has great taste in books so I was slightly disappointed after reading this. Read more
Published on 25 Sep 2002 by 30several
3.0 out of 5 stars way too shallow for the subject matter at hand!
Lynda Grant fails miserably in portraying the mood of the people at that time. Imagine thousands of persecuted, homeless Jews pouring into Palestine only to be refused entry into... Read more
Published on 5 July 2001
1.0 out of 5 stars quite extraordinary that this book won the Orange Prize
This book has had some very good reviews, as well as winning the Orange Prize this year. I find it absolutely incredible that it was praised so highly, and surprising that it found... Read more
Published on 24 April 2001
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