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When I Lived in Modern Times

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  1,273 Ratings  ·  123 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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Apr 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really liked this. At first I thought it seemed rather too didactic, too much a historical lesson in fictional form, but by 50 pages in I was completely won over. Yes, her characters sometimes seem to be mouthpieces, each taking an iconic role exemplifying the Jews of disparate nations and the assorted Brits in postwar British Mandate Palestine - the ostjuden, the Irgun fighter, the spies, the British wives, the kibbutz members, the Zionists, and the all-but-forgotten Arabs - but what each had ...more
Jan 02, 2016 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
Jun 13, 2015 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
Daniel Chaikin
Mar 24, 2013 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
Lucie Novak
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a book about Palestine just after WW2 , before Israel was established. Very interesting, that old question of freedom fighter or terrorist, written by a Jewish British writer, but not biased. It shows the ideas of building a new society, different than any society before, the kibbutzim who wanted to start a communist type society but minus the terror and oppression, all those Jewish intellectuals from Central Europe, critical of the " Ostjuden" they considered inferior. The building of a ...more
Jenny Yates
Mar 27, 2010 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
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english
An interesting story describing the early (from 1910 onward) history of Palestine and the troubles during the British mandate (1945-1948), through the adventures of a British Jewish girl that entered the country illegally.

I liked the way the author recounts the socialist Utopian spirit of the Zionists, and the kibbutzniks in particular. It is this spirit, now unfortunately lost, that the 'modern times' in the title refers to.
Sep 04, 2014 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.
Jan 22, 2011 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.
Nov 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
This was an ok story, nothing to write home about.
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A entertaining story set in a period of history I knew little about. Really enjoyable read.
Mindy Goorchenko
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
"As I sailed the Mediterranean Sea, all over the world people were in mass transit. We were moving like rides across the continents and the seas, troopships full of men stamping their boots in impatience, hats flying in the air at the sight of land. The roads and railways were engorged with human, sweating, shivering, sinking, parched or pissing flesh, travelling not for adventure or for pleasure or to take a rest cure or acquire a tan or out of boredom or to find romance or to cure a broken hea ...more
Gavin McGrath
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A thought provoking novel about the significance of our 'past' affecting our present identity. The lens through which this talented writer looks is the pre-1947 Palestine. The novel gives an insight into Jewish struggles but transcends above one ethnic, religious, or nationality identity. There is a sadness and poignancy to this book: but such makes sense for both, to me, echo a maturity without cynicism.
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I am feeling ambivalent about this book. On one hand, it was extremely interesting for me to read about the birth of Israel in a not-so-sanitized version, but on the other, I couldn’t connect with the characters portrayed in the book. It is as if the author kept us at arm’s length, not allowing for any familiarity to blossom between characters and reader.
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found the beginning a bit slow, but as it went on, the story grabbed me and I felt compelled to keep reading.
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: israel
Evelyn 'travels' from London to the British Mandate of Palestine and finds work on a kibbutz (but eventually tires of the life she finds there). After moving to Tel Aviv she reinvents herself as a hairdresser but unwittingly gets mixed up with Jewish freedom fighters.

An interesting read, although Grant's book only really takes off when she describes Evelyn's life in Tel Aviv. If you know little of the birth of Israel you may struggle as Evelyn is an innocent abroad and is swept along ignorant of
May 28, 2012 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
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
Feb 12, 2009 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
May 07, 2014 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
Aug 20, 2011 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
Oct 28, 2014 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 27, 2013 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,
Ploni Almoni
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
not a great book, not a good writer. but some interesting insights into life around the time of the founding of israel.
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
Oct 14, 2010 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
Nov 11, 2014 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
Feb 02, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2000
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
Jul 31, 2011 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
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Bailey's/Orange W...: December 2017 When I Lived in Modern Times 4 17 Jan 14, 2018 01:54AM  
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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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