Reviews

When I Lived in Modern Times

Patty Osborne

In When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant (Granta), Evelyn Sert looks back to her twenties, when she left England for Israel in search of a place in which she might belong. She thought of Israel as a brand new place where Jews would work to build a new society. “I was only twenty,” she says at the start, “and what does twenty know?” She settles in Tel Aviv, a brand new city filled with white concrete and glass. But even there she is surrounded by the past: Arabs, Brits and Jews come from all over the world and bring their pasts along with them. Evelyn speaks only English so she can’t communicate with the people she meets, and even after she learns rudimentary Hebrew she feels more at home among her British hairdressing clients, who think she’s the Catholic wife of a British soldier, than among the kibbutzniks and other Jewish settlers. Events propel Evelyn back to England and when she returns to Israel fifty years later she finds that the salt air has eroded her white city to a dirty brown, and the people she meets are even more mired in their pasts and prejudices. But this time Evelyn engages fully in the dirt and the chaos as she realizes that, as a kibbutznik told her many years ago, “The past is everything.”

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