Summary and book reviews of When I Lived In Modern Times by Linda Grant

When I Lived In Modern Times

by Linda Grant

When I Lived In Modern Times
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2001, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2002, 272 pages

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Book Summary

An unsentimental, iconoclastic coming-of-age story of both a country - Israel - and a young immigrant. An unforgettable glimpse of a time and place rarely observed from an unsparing point of view.

A number-one bestseller in London and the winner of Britain's prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction, When I Lived in Modern Times is one woman's story of discovery--of herself, of her heritage, and of the nation that would one day become Israel.

It is April 1946. For a weary and exhausted Europe, it's a time to begin picking up the pieces of the past, and for the armies of displaced persons on the move to slowly return home--if they still have one. But for Evelyn Sert, a twenty year-old woman from London standing on the deck of a ship bound for Palestine, it is a time of adventure and a time of change when anything seems possible.

Landing on the shores of a nation fighting to be born, Evelyn is quickly caught up in the spirited, chaotic churning of her new, strange country. Unsure of herself and where she belongs in this world whose only constant is change, she will become Eve and work in the unbearable heat of a kibbutz. As Evelyn, she will find a home, and a collection of friends as eccentric and disparate as the teeming metropolis of Tel Aviv itself. And as Priscilla, she will find love with a man who is not what he seems to be, as she is swept up as an unwitting spy in an underground army that is beyond anything she's ever imagined.

A coming-of-age story unlike any other, When I Lived in Modern Times illuminates a page of Twentieth century history that is at once exotic and familiar through the eyes of one of the most unforgettable heroines in contemporary fiction.

WHEN I look back I see myself at twenty. I was at an age when anything seemed possible, at the beginning of times when anything was possible. I was standing on the deck dreaming; across the Mediterranean we sailed, from one end to the other, past Crete and Cyprus to where the East begins. Mare nostrum. Our sea. But I was not in search of antiquity. I was looking for a place without artifice or sentiment, where life was stripped back to its basics, where things were fundamental and serious and above all modern.

This is my story. Scratch a Jew and you’ve got a story. If you don’t like elaborate picaresques full of unlikely events and tortuous explanations, steer clear of the Jews. If you want things to be straightforward, find someone else to listen to. You might even get to say something yourself. How do we begin a sentence?

"Listen . . ."

A sailor pointed out to me a little ship on the horizon, one whose role as a ship was supposed to be finished, which had reached ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
  1. The following are intended to enrich your conversation and help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for approaching this novel.

    Discuss the idea, as reflected in the title, of the past being more modern than the present.
  2. The novel opens with the words "When I look back I see myself at twenty, I was at an age when anything seemed possible." How different, if at all, would this novel been if Evelyn had been twenty-five? Thirty-five?
  3. How is art in its many forms, including music, painting, and architecture, used to express the concept of modernity in this book?
  4. What are possible motives for Evelyn's "Uncle Joe" to arrange her emigration to Palestine?
  5. Evelyn's life—...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Sunday Times (London)

A beautifully written, passionate novel.

The Sunday Times (London)

A beautifully written, passionate novel.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. An unsentimental, iconoclastic coming-of-age story of both a country - Israel - and a young immigrant, Grant's 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.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. An unsentimental, iconoclastic coming-of-age story of both a country - Israel - and a young immigrant, Grant's 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.

Independent on Sunday (UK)

Full of sharp humor, complex ironies and an acute eye for cultural clashes, this is a superb coming-of-age novel.

Scotland on Sunday

Written with uncluttered economy, high in quietly astute observation and underpinned by a rigorously searching investigation of its themes, this is a novel that both stimulates the mind and satisfies the heart.

Independent on Sunday (UK)

Full of sharp humor, complex ironies and an acute eye for cultural clashes, this is a superb coming-of-age novel.

Reader Reviews

Anonymous

Interesting, but entirely devoid of emotion. She didn't seem to care too much about what was going on around her. Having lived a sheltered life, I can't imagine what these changes must have felt like, but I didn't feel that the book brought me much...   Read More

Ariella

I am British and I now live in Israel having emmigrated here (albeit in 1999 and not 1946). And I am in love with Tel Aviv and its history.

To be honest I was quite surprised by the reviews that this book got since I was underwhelmed by truth in the ...   Read More

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