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4.1 out of 5 stars
When I Lived in Modern Times
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2013
This could indeed have been a very different sort of book - but I think this first hand description of a tremendously significant phenomenon - the birth of modern Israel - albeit a small-scale view through the eyes of someone who barely understands what she is seeing and has little or no sense of the historical background of where she finds herself, is at least as valid a record of human experience as a much more serious, analytical account would have been.
Evelyn is in search of an identity but her adoption of Jewishness is complicated by her growing awareness that there are many kinds of Jew, and all of them are angry with the country she's just come from. When she arrives she's surprised to find that she feels more British than Jewish, but in Palestine she's surrounded by British soldiers and their wives with an innate sense of superiority and a misplaced sense of fair play wholly inappropriate to the prevailing cultural complexities.
The book begins in a deceptively lightweight sort of way and slowly gathers momentum. It's written in a simple, economical style that seems of a piece with Evelyn's personality, not literary but direct and engaging. It was good at conveying the contrast between the brash, modern city of Tel Aviv with it's white walls and straight lines, and the centuries-old instabilities inherent in a place where races and cultures mingle and refugees from the second world war are pouring in and expecting to find The Promised Land.
There's a great sense of place - the brilliant light of Palestine, under which you might think that it would be very hard to conceal anything - a light which, as she describes it, has a merciless quality which, together with the melting pot of cultures living under it, goes some way to explain the violence that rumbles around Evelyn as she goes about what she trusts will be the everyday business of doing the hair of middle class ladies and falling in love with a handsome young man.
I liked the portraits of her neighbours and of the British wives who come to her salon, done in quick sketches rather than in depth but vivid enough to seem real, mostly by way of reported conversations which made me laugh quite a lot - Mrs Linz with her diatribes against men and domesticity, Mrs Linz's child who is always referred to as "the child" (wonderfully enigmatic and very funny), Mrs Mackintosh, the ebullient Johnny, Blum the landlord and the complacent Boltons who turn out to be her escape route when things become very dangerous indeed.
I liked the way she puts herself firmly at the centre of it all, not just what she thinks and does, but what she feels, what her body feels - her physical relationship with Johnny, the weather on her skin, her periods - and her insistence on the reality of the interior life while her lover Johnny has nightmares although he claims he never dreams.
She moves through this new world rather as I feel I might have done, noticing everything, feeling herself to be the centre of everything, and only gradually becoming aware of the fact that she has been noticed, singled out for nefarious purposes by people with their own agendas. She notices everything but at the same time it's as if the external world is a little unreal to her - her interior world is her reality. Suddenly she is way out of her depth and in grave danger as she realises she's being used... And so with little warning to the reader, the book becomes a very different sort of story to the one it started out to tell.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
'When I Lived in Modern Times' is a beautifully written story of a young Jewish girl's search for her personal identity as she exchanges a post-war England for the last days of Palestine under British colonial rule.

The story moves from one of the original Jewish kibbutz to the brand-new city of Tel Aviv as Evelyn Sert attempts to reinvent herself as one of the new Jews. Her encounters with the English expatriates plus her involvement with the fringes of the Irgun and Haganah resistance movements are a complicated mixture of changing personal attitudes and an uncertainty as to where her future really lies.

The wheel goes a full circle and, many years later, her final visit to Tel Aviv underlines her original uncertainty over her role in the creation of Eretz Israel - and her near-disillusionment over what has actually been created.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 June 2012
By writing a novel set at the beginning of the Israeli state, immediately after WWII, from the perspective of a young Jewish woman full of hope for the future, Linda Grant manages to highlight many of the issues that have caused such strife through the 20th century in a way that allows us to understand the behaviour of all involved.
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on 17 July 2014
Quite simply, one of the finest novels I have ever read, both entertaining and intellectually stimulating. I'm already pursuing other fiction by Linda Grant. She writes the way I've always wished I could.
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on 31 August 2013
She's a very good story teller, with very interesting subject matter. It's hard to put down. She writes very well.
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on 14 September 2014
Interesting story as I knew very little about Israel/Palestine. Not impressed with the writing however.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2012
I ploughed through this to the bitter end, although I did struggle with it a bit. I got bored with the storyline.

I kept on with it as it provided an interesting historical perspective into the birth of the modern Israel and I like to learn about things that are new to me.
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on 13 March 2015
Slow to start but improves as I read further
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on 27 October 2014
Excellent book flows along nicely.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2012
Well written account of pre-partition Palestine from a secular Zionist perspective although the plot of the novel seems a little artificial at times.
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