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When I Lived in Modern Times

3.56  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,044 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction

In the spring of 1946, Evelyn Sert stands on the deck of a ship bound for Palestine. For the twenty-year-old from London, it is a time of adventure and change when all things seem possible.

Swept up in the spirited, chaotic churning of her new, strange country, she joins a kibbutz, then moves on to the teeming metropolis of Tel Aviv, t
Paperback, 272 pages
Published December 31st 2002 by Plume (first published 2000)
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Orange Prize for Fiction Winners
14th out of 22 books — 95 voters
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The Encore Award
39th out of 88 books — 2 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Apr 30, 2016 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

When I Lived in Modern Times is an interesting story as it chronicles a sort of reverse diaspora. There are novels about Jews leaving their homeland and adapting to a new life in the U.K. and U.S. but rarely do you read about a second generation Jew returning to her homeland and attempting to live there?

Evelyn Sert has lived in London for 20 years and she decides to move to Jerusalem in order to find a job. The thing is it is 1947 and there are riots in order to get the British to evacuate Jerus
Feb 02, 2016 Geraldine rated it really liked it
This was a very readable book, and easy/quick to read.

The great strength of the writing was to evoke a time and a place. A part of history I know little about (and suspect I'm not alone). I partly mean the birth of the state of Israel but especially the immediate Post War period. It was only through reading this book and poking around a bit on the internet that I realised I have never thought - after the concentration camps were liberated, where did people go? And not just camp survivors. All my
Jenny Yates
Mar 27, 2010 Jenny Yates rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and recommend it whole-heartedly. I think it should take its place among the classics of English-language Jewish literature. It’s written beautifully: thoughtful, wry, occasionally poetic.

It’s the story of a young British woman coming to Israel after the war, before it was called Israel, before it was a country, when the British were running around in khaki shorts trying to govern it. The heroine, Evelyn Sert, is young, orphaned, and used to being different from the people aro
Sep 04, 2014 Cheryl rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-fiction
After the end of World War II, 20 year old London native Evelyn Sert travels to Palestine in search of a meaningful life. Once there, she meets a wide assortment of people and becomes an unwitting participant in an organization fighting to establish a new Jewish nation.
Nov 24, 2014 David rated it liked it
Given that this was my recommendation for my book club, I was quite disappointed. I had been really impressed by Linda Grant's latest two novels "The Clothes on Their Backs" and "We had it so Good" but this earlier book was not nearly so well written, even though it won the Orange Prize. It didn't help that our narrator, the 20 year old Evelyn Sert, is so bogged down with an identity crisis about her Jewish background, having been brought up in London, that there is a complete lack of humour and ...more
Jan 22, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brings to life the glistening Bauhaus 'White City' of 1940s Tel-Aviv like no other book I've yet read. Grant's story-telling is excellent and I was gripped by her protagonist's plight from start to finish.
Leah Beecher
Jul 27, 2014 Leah Beecher rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I really thought I would enjoy this book. It won the Orange Prize for Fiction, and is set in a time and place that I knew nothing about: the Zionist movement in Jerusalem in Post WWII. The heroine Evelyn, seemed like she would be a good meaty character. I just could not stand how Ms. Grant chose to tell the story: all retrospect; it was a lot of telling not describing. Usually rule number one of how not to write. For me it made it impossible to get into. A supposed, raw, coming-of-age-story of a ...more
Apr 15, 2015 Zaki rated it it was ok
This was an ok story, nothing to write home about.
I picked up When I Lived in Modern Times as it was a women's prize winner and was also cheap on Kindle. It follows Evelyn, who after being exposed to various Zionist propaganda, decides to move to Israel from Britain before it becomes Israel, in order to establish the new state in the dying days of the British mandate.

On the positive side, Grant is great at creating a sense of place. Her descriptions of the cities in which the action takes place is wonderful. There were also parts of When I L
Jan 03, 2015 Mirrani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book won the Orange/Women's Prize for fiction and it is easy to see why. The writing completely drew me in to a world that I never would have visited before. There are stories out there about Israel and Palestine, but few have had the power to pull me to one side of the issue without making me wonder what happens to the other side. That, of course, sounds bad, as if this book isn't well rounded or is one sided, but it is the type of story that really has to be one sided in order to be prope ...more
Daniel Chaikin
Sep 26, 2015 Daniel Chaikin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Re-read this for a bookclub. The book was my recommendation. I loved it the first time mainly because I loved learning about all the different Jewish peoples who made up Israel in 1947, just before independence, and I was fascinated by the different reactions. Israel was a tough change for most of these people - the Russian communist idealists in the kibbutz, the Holocaust camp survivors whose desperate survivalist mentality is horrifyingly maintained in Israel, the German and Eastern European J ...more
Dec 21, 2015 Val rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the founding of the state of Israel as told by a young Jewish Englishwoman and it is her story. Unusually for a book about twentieth century Jewish history, none of the major characters is a holocaust survivor or suffering from survivor guilt.
The foundations of what is now Israel were laid down before WWII by idealists, nationalists, dreamers, intellectuals, visionaries, who turned themselves into practical hard-working pioneers and created a white city and communal farms in
Oct 14, 2010 Maia rated it liked it
Wow, I actually read from cover to cover an entire Orange Prize winner which I didn't want to hurl across the room! And while I wasn't moored by it (still too much 'lyricism' and still not enough structure) I enjoyed it and admired its underlying strength and sense of conviction. And I definitely rate it above the favorite for this year (2000), 'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith.

This is a coming-of-age story of a young Jewish hairdresser from London woman post-WWII who, as many then did, goes to find
I picked this up as a Kindle deal a couple of weeks back as I liked the idea to read more about the founding period of the State of Israel from a young woman's perspective.

When Evelyn Sert, a 20-year-old hairdresser from Soho sets out to support the Zionist cause in Palestine she has no idea what she's up against. At first she's sent to a Kibbutz where she experiences hard work and a almost communist ideal of shared property and a meager lifestyle she cannot identify with. In Tel Aviv, life's a
Dec 07, 2014 Kimbofo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A young woman's search for cultural identity at the end of the Second World War is the focus of Linda Grant's award-winning When I Lived in Modern Times. The story is set largely in Palestine before partition and is told through the eyes of a 20-year-old Londoner in search of her Jewish roots.

Evelyn Sert is English by birth, but her parents are Jewish immigrants from Poland and Latvia. All through her childhood, she is conscious of the fact that she is "exotic" — "I was a round-faced, stubborn,
Feb 26, 2009 Zac rated it really liked it
It's hard for me to get into the mind of a young girl, never having had that experience, but the author captivated me with her description and character development. She also is very uninhibited when it comes to dealing with sexual issues, and the fact that the main character is a hair-dresser, and the extent to which she describes some of the old processes by which they colored and treated hair is an interesting aside.

The plot flows pretty naturally from London to a kibbutz in Palestine and beg
Aug 25, 2011 Alison rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
I enjoyed this story of one womans experience of the beginnning of the state of Israel. The author explores many themes that are associated with this story - the obvious ones being immigration and idealism but she also looks at the darker side of the creation of the state of Israel - terroism, the failure of the British to control their mandate, the fear of the British rule, the reasons why many jews were Zionists . The book is set in the new city of Tel Aviv in 1946 just as many of the holocaus ...more
Aug 14, 2015 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Low 3. This novel held great promise in exploring the seismic upheavals which accompanied the birth of modern Israel and the contradictory influences on the identity of the main protagonist as she attempts to discover where her loyalties truly lie. Evelyn Sert, a Jewish hairdresser from London, joins the wave of settlers pouring into Palestine immediately after the Second World War. Tel Aviv becomes a haven for all those wishing to escape their past, and Evelyn's appearance enables her to pass h ...more
Nov 24, 2013 Katherine rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: historical fiction fans
4.75 out of 5 stars.

I did enjoy SO MUCH reading this book. I was going back and forth between 4 and 5 stars, but there was so much of the book that I did love and its vivid scenes really compels me to give it 5 stars.

The story is based specifically in 1947, in the final stages of British occupation of Palestine. It is a fictional story, but helps to create the uncertainty, instability and division that emerged as Jewish immigrants went to Palestine after the World War II. The story follows Evel
Jul 31, 2011 Cathrine rated it really liked it
In April 1946 Everlyn Sert sets off to Palestine to start a new life in a brand new country. A country filled with Jewish refugees and idealists, but at least on the paper everything seems possible. After spending the first couple of months at a Kibbutz she realises that this wasn’t what she had expected. Instead she moves to the Bauhouse city of Tel Aviv, where she quickly becomes a new woman, a new Jew and totally reinvents herself. Then she meets Johnny, an idealist who is part of the movemen ...more
Victoria Grusing
Jun 12, 2014 Victoria Grusing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A new point of view from a woman who was a young adult at the time of WW2. She has been raised in London; but of Jewish heritage. She sees the new land of Jewish emigrants with new eyes. It was really an interesting view of places I haven't seen; but with a viewpoint totally new for me.
The writing was very good. The characters covered many positions that were held by people from different social backgrounds and heritage.
Wendy Migdal
Apr 02, 2016 Wendy Migdal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting topic; not one that I've read much about, especially in the way of fiction. The author does a good job of relaying the main character's feeling of fragmentation, that she doesn't really belong anywhere. She also illustrates the very different backgrounds of the Jews of Palestine, and how they coped with their their pasts and what they hoped for in their futures.
I enjoyed this tale as told from a young woman's perspective about the 1947/48 struggle to establish the Jewish state of Israel from under the weight of post World War Two British colonial rule. It started a bit stodgily in London and ended in somewhat of a disappointing whimper but very much worth a read as the bulk of the novel set in Palestine is very good. It was interesting to get an unvarnished, warts and all Jewish perspective on how statehood was attained and shows not only how the indig ...more
Aug 17, 2014 Juliet rated it it was amazing
Believe all the superlatives. This is a brilliantly written truly evocative novel that describes the city of Tel Aviv in the months before the British pulled out. But it's so much more than that as well, an examination of how we present ourselves to the world, how events and people mould us, and how preconceived notions can only be challenged if we allow them to be so.
Perez Malone
May 19, 2013 Perez Malone rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in the history of Israel
Shelves: own
I really thought this would be a great book when I bought it at a library sale, part of a bag of books for a dollar. The story is about a woman who leaves London for pre-independence Palestine/Israel. Sounds interesting, and indeed the descriptions and much of the history the book informs the reader about are interesting, but the writing falls flat in many places. Linda Grant seems to prefer to tell instead of show. The narrator gives us a running commentary of what she was thinking at each turn ...more
Feb 13, 2008 Tim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in the history of Israel
Shelves: own
I really thought this would be a great book when I bought it at a library sale, part of a bag of books for a dollar. The story is about a woman who leaves London for pre-independence Palestine/Israel. Sounds interesting, and indeed the descriptions and much of the history the book informs the reader about are interesting, but the writing falls flat in many places. Linda Grant seems to prefer to tell instead of show. The narrator gives us a running commentary of what she was thinking at each turn ...more
Wendy Greenberg
Jan 01, 2015 Wendy Greenberg rated it liked it
Evelyn/Eve loses her single mum hairdresser and decides to go to Palestine in 1946. Life is tough and she ends up with assumed identities and being embroiled with the Irgun. Insights into rule under British Mandate in Palestine and immigration policies.then it's collapse. Liked it but felt it lacked colour and passion for such an emotive subject and time.
Apr 30, 2016 Kathy rated it really liked it
Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2000. Set in Tel Aviv in 1946, it is the story of a young Jewish woman, from London, who finds her way to Palestine at the end of the British rule. It's a short book, but with impact - a "personal" accounting of the birth of the state of Israel as seen through the eyes of this young woman.
Apr 04, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Don't you understand that we have no choice but to live through the portion of history that is allotted to us?"

What does it mean to be modern? In this story of forging and shedding identities, Grant shines a spotlight on the human machinations that shape history--both personal and political.

Effective pacing and colourful characters, though the imagery and descriptive language is sometimes jarring and out of place. Where the writing really finds its strength is in the opposition of various opin
Elizabeth Smith
May 13, 2014 Elizabeth Smith rated it it was amazing
A fascinating fictional account of life in Tel Aviv following the second world war. The protagonist, Evelyn, was a fascinating character and the perfect way to explore the life and times of the city through her young and naive eyes. I really enjoyed this and also felt I learnt a lot about a place and time I knew little about.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads' database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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 di
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