Orange Prize Challenge #3: ‘When I Lived in Modern Times’

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For my third book in the Orange Prize challenge, I read Linda Grant’s “When I Lived in Modern Times.” One thing I’ve noticed is that the prize has yet to go to two similar books. This is the second prize-winning book that deals with Jewish people during and after the Holocaust, the first being Anne Michaels’ “Fugitive Pieces,” but the two couldn’t be more different.

As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like ‘Modern Times,’ which is why I liked it and why I didn’t like it at the same time. The protagonist Evelyn Sert grows up in London during the Second World War. When her mother dies of a stroke, she decides to visit Palestine in hopes of seeing the formation of new Jewish land. When she gets there, she discovers that the territory wars between the Jews and the Arabs are more tumultuous than ever, with the British trying to decide whether to control the masses or remove troops completely from occupying the area. Evelyn struggles between her Jewish heritage and her British upbringing when she meets a young Jewish fighter intent on creating a new Zionist state.

I’d never read anything about this time in history, either fiction or non-fiction, and I always enjoy learning new things and seeing characters in situations I haven’t already. And while Grant did an extremely good job of creating the atmosphere and giving lush description that made me feel like I was in that time and place, I was a little lost in terms of the history and politics of the era. I didn’t feel like Grant did a good job for setting up the historical context, something which I normally wouldn’t care about, but there was a lot of important Jewish history and politics going on that I didn’t understand.

Once I got into the book, however, I really appreciated the love story and the heroine’s journey to finding herself (despite the mistakes she made). It was a meandering book, and I felt that way reading it, so that at the end, there wasn’t much that I could connect to or remember. I did appreciate getting a fresh perspective on the Jewish experience post-Holocaust. Considering that I haven’t read any of the short-listed titles for  2000, it’s pretty difficult for me to judge.

Next up is 2001 winner Kate Grenville’s “The Idea of Perfection,” which beat out Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin,” one of my favorite books of all time. We’ll see how that goes…

“When I Lived in Modern Times:” C+/B-



  1. On my shelf and contemplating reading next….Hmm. Can’t decide!

    I LOVED The Idea of Perfection – and I am an Atwood fan. So, I hope that sounds encouraging!

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