When 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. ( )