30 May, 2006

Building a new world

I've just been enjoying enormously Linda Grant's novel about Palestine at the end of the British Mandate period, When I lived in modern times. It's the story of a girl, Evelyn Sert, who travels from post-war Britain to Palestine in the hope of helping to forge the new Jewish state, who is confronted by a world in motion where her every decision is a statement about herself and her view of the embryonic Jewish state. It's also about double identity: Jewish/English and inner life/outer life.

The book is set in Tel Aviv and Linda Grant has said she wanted the writing to be like the city: simple and strong. It is both those things, and a thrilling evocation of what it must have been like to be in Palestine at that time: one of the books you read as much to find out what it was like to live in a particular period as for any higher literary experience. The narrative voice very subtly underlines some of the hypocrisies and compromises of the Jews as well as of the British imperial administrators, and it also looks at what it means to be modern and shows Evelyn's growing up from a girl to an adult very beautifully. All this and a truly gripping read! I recommend it highly.

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