‘When I Lived In Modern Times’ by Linda Grant

When I Lived In Modern Times is Linda Grant’s second book of fiction: her appeal is that she tells a darned fine story and tells it well. Her prose is to the point and uncluttered, the narrative straightforward and unveiled.

Post World War II and 20 year old Evelyn Sert obtains a Christian pilgrim visa to travel from London to the Holy Land. The fact she is Jewish and therefore, under the British Mandate laws, travelling illegally adds spice to Evelyn’s travels. Like so many others, she is looking for a new life with new opportunities.

Not that that is immediately apparent. Collected by the Jewish Agency at the port of Haifa, Evelyn is taken north to a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley. With the rough and ready communal way of idealism, it’s a raw introduction to the building of a new country. A hairdresser and resident of pre-war Soho, Evelyn is something of a fish out-of-water. She doesn’t last long – a few sexual adventures along with a smattering of Hebrew and Evelyn heads for Tel Aviv, the White City of Bauhaus architecture and Jewish refugees – and the British.

Naive, looking to reinvent herself yet, surprisingly, something of a survivor (her days on the kibbutz did Evelyn some good), in this new world of hope and idealism. Finding herself embroiled in the mechanisms of revolt, as the peroxide-blonde Mrs Jones, hairdresser to the wives of the British administration, Evelyn is a useful source for information. Her lover, Jonny, sees to it she in looked after in return for a few seeming titbits.

A narrative of time and place as the British administration look to leave Palestine and the months prior to the declaration for the State of Israel, When I Lived In Modern Times is an enjoyable tale of one person’s everyday experience of an important moment in history. Like Evelyn herself, it’s a time of transition and a time of change – and Grant perfectly captures a moment, a scintilla.

Winner of the Orange Prize for Literature in 2000.

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