When I Lived in Modern Times Paperback – 1 Oct 2000
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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
"A stunning accomplishment...A vivid account of an elusive piece of recent history"
"Informed, intelligent...vital, original. "
-The New York Times
"Deeply moving...at once a beautifully rendered story of one woman's coming of age, and a gripping portrait of the last days of British rule. "
"Ms. Grant's fast-paced novel succeeds on many levels. It recreates the historical era accurately with sophisicated prose and lively jests about the human condition."
-Dallas Morning News
"Appealing...[When I Lived in Modern Times] offers an unsentimental view of a young woman's coming-of-age in a paradoxically ancient and newborn land. [A] compelling tale of a Middle Eastern adventure."
A stunning accomplishment A vivid account of an elusive piece of recent history
Informed, intelligent vital, original.
-The New York Times
Deeply moving at once a beautifully rendered story of one woman s coming of age, and a gripping portrait of the last days of British rule.
Ms. Grant s fast-paced novel succeeds on many levels. It recreates the historical era accurately with sophisicated prose and lively jests about the human condition.
-Dallas Morning News
Appealing [When I Lived in Modern Times] offers an unsentimental view of a young woman s coming-of-age in a paradoxically ancient and newborn land. [A] compelling tale of a Middle Eastern adventure.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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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