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When I Lived in Modern Times
by Linda GRANT
ISBN 1862073341 / 9781862073340 / 1-86207-334-1
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In April 1946, Evelyn Sert, a 20-year-old East End London hairdresser, sets out for Palestine. "This is my story", she writes, "Scratch a Jew and you've got a story." Evelyn's story in Linda Grant's When I Lived in Modern Times is no less complicated than that of any other displaced European Jew in the post-war years--separated from her family and searching for some kind of reliable identity for herself in an inhospitable new land. In shining modern Bauhaus-influenced Tel Aviv she finds that she is more English than Israeli and she becomes Priscilla Jones, a peroxided English girl with an absent policeman husband. She is at her most "real", it seems, when pretending, revelling in her ability to be entirely accepted among the English women whose hair she cuts and curls. Beyond their petty and casually anti-semitic circle, by contrast, she struggles with Hebrew, the heat, the unfamiliar food and alien, exotic way of life.
But in Palestine the English are the enemy and Evelyn is drawn into a world of shifting identities, lies and secrets by her passionate Zionist boyfriend Johnny. Even then, she is never quite sure which side she is on, or where she belongs.
Linda Grant writes with quiet assurance and a strong sense of purpose. Her Tel Aviv is a city of contradictions and of hope. Her heroine is a fully believable figure, a chameleon character of a kind readily recognisable to those of us who grew up as part of the seismic displacement of peoples that accompanied World War Two, as also, probably, to anyone who has been caught up in the more recent exoduses from Bosnia, Kosova and Albania. --Lisa Jardine [via]