BOOK REVIEW: When I Lived In Modern Times by Linda Grant

When I Lived In Modern Times by Linda GrantWhen I Lived In Modern Times
By Linda Grant
Completed July 15, 2011

Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2000, When I Lived In Modern Times is the story of Evelyn, a young Jewish woman from London who emigrated to modern-day Israel in 1946.  While the story was a coming of age tale (of sorts) for Evelyn, at the heart of the novel was the beginning of a new nation, struggling to survive in a hostile land.

Evelyn, like so many European Jews after World War II, was displaced, though her circumstances were different from other D.P.s (displaced persons). She was raised in London by her single mom, and after her mom’s death, Evelyn was looking for a fresh start. She eventually settled in Tel Aviv – a modern city with new buildings – and quickly made friends with the Jewish residents and British colonists who lived there. Evelyn was unique because she encompassed both worlds – a Jew who wanted a free country who was just as comfortable talking to the Brits. She eventually had to pick a side, and thanks to a relationship with a Jewish freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on what side you’re on), she began to help the Zionist movement in small ways.

The beginning and end of When I Lived in Modern Times were engaging, but overall, the book was an average read for me. The highlight of the story was learning about the creation of Israel. While I am familiar with this nation’s early history,  it came alive in Grant’s writing. What didn’t come alive for me, though, were the characters. They seemed flat and one-dimensional, and for a reader like me who enjoys character-driven fiction, I was disappointed by this aspect of the book.

Obviously, something about this story appealed to the Orange Prize judges at the time, so if you like award-winning books, then give When I Lived in Modern Times a go. Perhaps it will engage you more than it did me. (  )

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BermudaOnion
    Jul 16, 2011 @ 21:30:41

    The subject of the story is so interesting – it’s too bad the book wasn’t more engaging.

    Reply

  2. Dee
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 00:36:47

    This one fell a bit flat for me too and you’ve described exactly the same reasons why!

    Reply

  3. Laura
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 01:21:44

    Sounds like you, me, and Dee are on the same page about this one. I just re-read my review, and found this: This book would be interesting to those wishing to learn more about the birth of Israel, and it puts today’s events in historical context. However, I was hoping for a more character-driven novel and in that respect I was disappointed.

    Reply

  4. Vasilly
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 03:40:19

    Too bad the book wasn’t engaging enough. It sounds like an interesting read but I’ll pass. Great review.

    Reply

  5. mrstreme
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 04:58:40

    It’s too bad – I wanted to like it, but I felt no connection to the characters. Like Laura said, it wasn’t a character-driven novel like I hoped.

    Reply

  6. cscott02
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 08:43:31

    I felt exactly the same way! Glad to see I’m not crazy. I think it won the award for taking on a subject in a new light which is always important; it just doesn’t hold up for 15 years.

    Reply

  7. nomadreader
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 23:49:41

    I’m starting this one next (I hope tonight!) I’m eager to read it, as I adored Grant’s most recent novel, We Had It So Good. I’m also a little wary, as reading backlist titles sometimes make me disappointed, as the writer has grown over time. Regardless, I hope I like it more than you did, but on my quest to read all the Orange Prize winners this year, I find a huge disparity. Some I’ve adored, but others have fallen short for me too.

    Reply

  8. Trackback: My Orange July 2011 Reading Wrap-Up « The Magic Lasso
  9. BuriedInPrint
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 04:11:37

    I have had a copy of this for years but haven’t made it there yet: as Carrie said above, I hope I enjoy it more than you did!

    Reply

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