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When I Lived in Modern Times Paperback – December 31, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In April 1946, a 20-year-old East End London hairdresser named Evelyn Sert sets out for Palestine. "This is my story," she writes in When I Lived in Modern Times, which won Linda Grant the 2000 Orange Prize. "Scratch a Jew and you've got a story." Her account is no less complicated than that of any other displaced European Jew in the postwar years. Separated from her family, she searches for some kind of reliable identity in an inhospitable new land--and in shining, Bauhaus-influenced Tel Aviv, she finds that she is more English than Israeli. Lo and behold, she becomes Priscilla Jones, a peroxided Londoner with an absent policeman husband. She is at her most "real," it seems, when pretending, and revels in her ability to be entirely accepted among the English women whose hair she cuts and curls. Outside of their petty and casually anti-Semitic circle, meanwhile, she struggles with Hebrew, the heat, the unfamiliar food, and an alien way of life.

In Palestine, of course, the English are the enemy. Evelyn is soon 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. All of this makes her a prototypical inhabitant of Linda Grant's Tel Aviv, a city of contradictions and of hope. More to the point, Grant's heroine is a fully believable figure, a chameleon of a kind readily recognizable to those of us who grew up as part of the seismic displacement of peoples that accompanied World War II--and, alas, to anyone who has been caught up in the more recent exoduses from Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania. --Lisa Jardine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

An unsentimental, iconoclastic coming-of-age story of both a countryDIsraelDand a young immigrant, Grant's first novel introduces an unusually appealing heroine, narrator Evelyn Sert, and provides an unforgettable glimpse of a time and place rarely observed from an unsparing point of view. Na ve and idealistic, 20-year-old Evelyn, an incipient Zionist, leaves London for Palestine in April 1946 under false pretenses. Devoid of useful skills, she barely survives a stint on a kibbutz. Later, in Tel Aviv, she gets a job in a hairdressing salon, passing herself off as Priscilla Jones, the wife of a British soldier. To her neighbors she acknowledges that she's a Jew, but she's puzzled that she has more in common with the British colonials than with the motley collection of Jews from many lands and widely disparate religious, social and economic backgrounds, all of them busy reinventing themselves. After falling in love with a chameleon-like man she knows as Johnny, who impersonates a British army officer, she's not really surprised to find that he's a terrorist with the Irgun underground, working cold-bloodedly to end the British Mandate. Unwittingly, Evelyn gives Johnny information that results in violence. The quiet force of this astonishingly mature novel comes in watching Evelyn's simplistic worldview gradually give way to disillusionment as she becomes aware of the moral ambiguities and paradoxes on all sides. Readers will be struck by the timeliness of Grant's narrative, for she captures the excitement and danger of a volatile society and the desperate measures of a homeless people convinced that they must create a state. The implications of this cautionary tale keep unfolding even after the bittersweet denouement. It's no wonder that this novel won the 2000 Orange Prize, beating out Zadie Smith's White Teeth. (Feb.) Forecast: The stark facts revealed in Tom Segev's One Palestine, Complete (Nonfiction Forecasts, Oct. 23) acquire a human face and a compelling voice in this fictional evocation of the period. The novel's relevance to current events provides a natural handle for booksellers, and Hollywood may see the potential in a story whose ramifications are reflected in today's headlines.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (December 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452282926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452282926
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,393,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Idealism and disillusionment, the collisions of past and future are recurrent themes in this novel set in 1946 and 1947 Palestine, where identity is a haphazard commodity. The narrator who chronicles what she calls living history is 20-year-old Evelyn Sert, sometimes called Eve, sometimes Mrs. Priscilla Jones. Unlike many tales of Jewish refugees reclaiming their homeland, Evelyn is not a refugee, but she is a displaced person of sorts. It is right after the war and Evelyn and her mother have survived the long years of the London blitz and rationing.
Growing up in England, the daughter of a woman who has cut ties from her own immigrant family and a shadowy American father only glimpsed through one old photograph, Evelyn is always reminded that she is second class, and the only thing that fiercely endures is her Jewish identity. When her mother dies an early death, her mother's lover, "Uncle Joe", who has fed and clothed them all these years, and fed Evelyn as well on Zionism, encourages her to go to Palestine, and basically pays her off to do so. One senses that it is not entirely out of conviction but a convenient way to get Evelyn out of the way of his real family.
A frustrated artist, she goes to work at the only way she knows how to make a real living, as a hairdresser. In her hairdresser's capacity, she is recruited for mundane underground assignments by the mysterious sexy "Johnny", who becomes her lover. Eventually caught out by the British and forced to leave the country, Evelyn's idealistic dream disintegrates, and that is the tie-in to the book's title, but it does not end there. A mature and wizened Evelyn returns to Israel to live out her twilight years.
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Format: Hardcover
Linda Grant's "When I Lived In Modern Times (WILIMT)" is not a political treatise on the epoch making event of the creation of the Jewish nation state of Israel but it captures perfectly the sense of excitement and urgent anticipation that gripped the hearts and minds of the Jewish diaspora when they saw and seized the occasion that presented itself after the Second World War. Evelyn Sert (aka Priscilla Jones) suffers an identity crisis whilst living unhappily in England. She is torn between her Englishness and her own ethnicity, so when she decides to pack her bags for Tel Aviv to make her small contribution to the Cause, she comes face to face with an uncomfortable life in a kibbutz before finally emerging in Tel Aviv, where she works as a hairdresser. It is through her surprising encounters with characters as varied and diverse as Meier, Blum, Mrs Lintz, Mackintosh and her lover Johnny - most of them leftovers from the recent historical past - that we enter the minds of the various ethnic communities (including the colonial English), some declining, others rising, but all experiencing a deep turbulence in their consciousness. Just as the English weren't shedding their colonial mentality or adjusting to their declining influence on the world stage quite so quickly enough, the German Jews who had survived the Nazi era weren't ready to shed their prejudices about the Arabs and so forth. But Grant isn't out to make a political statement. Her aim is to entertain, so what she has in store for us is an adventure story, with all the ingredients of political intrigue, spying and kidnapping, etc, as we follow Evelyn in her narrow escapades and search for her own soul and identity in her burgeoning fatherland.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great account of a part of history that is very much neglected. Also a coming-of-age story and a bit of a spy story as well. Grant is an absorbing writer, at her best, in my opinion, when developing a plot around a compelling character at a particularly interesting point in time. This fine book reflects her talent, I did not want the book to end.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Scratch a Jew and you've got a story," Evelyn Sert, the main character, tells us on the opening page. The time is April 1946, when "victory hung like a veil in the air, disguising where we might be headed next." The place is Palestine.

Evelyn herself is a mere two generations away from a Latvian shtetl. In England, she feels more Jewish than English. She gets to Palestine pretending to be a Christian tourist. In Palestine, she's continually being mistaken for being English. In Tel Aviv where Evelyn settles, German Holocaust survivors sit in the beachside cafes, wearing black suits, discussing German literature, music, art and culture, trying to recreate the life they knew in Germany. As the pressure for a Jewish state builds and the British evacuate nonessential personnel, an older British woman wails that Palestine has been her home since childhood. "They're sending me back to England. I hardly know it. I'm going into exile, but you people know all about that." Behind her back, a Jewish baker laughs.

This is a beautifully written book. Toward the end of the book, Evelyn says, "Look at it this way, we are the people of the Book. It is the first thousand years of Jewish history and, though we have no second volume for the next two thousand years, each story a Jew tells is part of that book. We have no choice but to listen."
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