When I Lived in Modern Times

Written by Linda Grant
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

I was absolutely bowled over by this book, which won the British Orange Prize for Fiction. It is the story of Evelyn Sert, a Jewish woman of 20 whose mother has recently died and who has no reason to stay in her native city, London. It is April, 1946, and Evelyn decides to sail for Palestine. The British still rule in Palestine, but it is a time of great change, not only for the country that will become Israel, but for Evelyn herself. She begins her stay in the country on kibbutz, but quickly realizes it isn’t the life for her. She soon settles in Tel Aviv, a sprarkling new city built in the Bauhaus style. She finds work as a hair stylist, a trade she learned from her mother. Many of her customers are the wives of British officers, and she is puzzled to find herself more at home amongst fellow countrymen who profess a languid anti-Semitism than she is with other Jews, both immigrants and native-born. Evelyn witnesses events connected to the struggle for independence, and eventually becomes more involved than just as a witness. The issues and struggles of the time are vividly presented. The press release for this book describes it as “a coming of age story unlike any other…told through the eyes of one of the most unforgettable heroines in contemporary fiction.” In the case of When I Lived in Modern Times, this is not hyperbole.