When I Lived
in Modern Times
Tel Aviv--called "the white city" because of its many Bauhaus buildings--is the setting of Linda Grant's novel about Palestine under the British Mandate. Evelyn Sert, a twenty-year-old Jewish girl from England, comes to Palestine in 1946 to be part of the great project of building a Jewish homeland. After a summer on a kibbutz, she winds up settling in Tel Aviv--a modern city teeming with recent Jewish immigrants, all with different visions of the new society they want to build.
She discovers a reality more complex than she ever expected. The Jews of Palestine are as diverse as can be--Russian-born socialists on the kibbutzim; German Jews still immersed in their Old World culture; Holocaust survivors illegally smuggled into the country in defiance of the British quotas; and native-born Israelis who want no part of the past.
Evelyn soon finds herself in an unexpected role. Taking up work as a hairdresser for the wives of British officers, who know her as "Priscilla Jones," a non-Jewish Englishwoman, she becomes privy to their secrets and shares them with her Israeli boyfriend Johnny. Gradually, she realizes that Johnny is a member of the Irgun, the Jewish terrorist underground dedicated to hastening the British departure from Palestine. At first an unwitting accomplice, she eventually takes up her role as a spy, entering a strange new world of danger and intrigue on the eve of Israel's struggle for independence.
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Twenty-four-year-old Jonathan Safran Foer, a grandchild of survivors, deals with the legacy of Holocaust memory in his debut novel.
As a college student, Foer traveled to the Ukraine to find the gentile woman who may have saved his grandfather. Poorly prepared for the trip, he discovers nothing; the town no longer exists. Still, the experience was powerful enough to inspire this fictional creation of the trip he wished had happened.
His novel contains three alternating running narratives: The first--and most entertaining--is the saga of his misadventures in the Ukraine, narrated in hilarious broken English by Alexander Perchov, the cocky and confident twenty-year-old Ukrainian guide who accompanies him. More challenging are the author's imaginative reconstructions of his grandfather's shtetl, Trachimbrod, written in the style of magical realism. But the most poignant sections, leading to the novel's powerful climax, are found in Alex's letters to the author, where he describes the impact of this memory-trip on himself and his Ukrainian family.
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Copyright © 2002, Union of American Hebrew Congregations