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A Book A Week: When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant


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Linda Grant's When I Lived in Modern Times describes a brief period in the life of Evelyn Sert, a Jewish woman who goes to Israel shortly after the end of World War II and who lives for a time in Tel Aviv. It's an interesting account of the growth of the White City (the concentration of buildings designed by refugee German architects in the Bauhaus style), of Tel Aviv's burgeoning café society, and of life under the British Mandate.

Because Evelyn is a Londoner by birth and accent, she obtains work as a hairdresser in a salon that caters to the wives of the colonial British officers. She discovers that she can work more easily and earn more money by hiding her Jewish identity and pretending to be the wife of a British soldier on assignment. Of course this leads to intrigue, and eventually to disaster as she gets involved with a member of the Irgun, one of the more violent Jewish organizations who were attempting to oust the British.

I love books about the immigrant experience and books about colonial life under British rule. This book has both!

And coincidentally so does the book I am just finishing up now, Nowhere in Africa, about German Jewish refugees to Kenya in the 1940s. A couple of years ago I tried to read Grant's 2009 novel The Clothes on Their Backs, but for some reason it didn't appeal to me and I gave up.

When I Lived in Modern Times was published in the early 2000s, and when I started it, I didn't realize it was written by the same author as The Clothes on Their Backs. I wonder if that would have put me off. Now I am looking forward to trying Grant's other books, which seem to be right up my alley.


Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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