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1947: Where Now Begins

Review

1947: Where Now Begins

written by Elisabeth Åsbrink, translated by Fiona Graham

Time is a fascinating construct. They always talk about being more efficient, in an effort to “save time.” But time is not like money. It can’t be saved. Maybe nothing can be saved. Not time, not humanity, not kindness… The list is endless.

Just like the phrase “there’s no there there,” there is no now now. By the time you finish reading this sentence, you’ll be in a new now. So one can reasonably ask: When does “now” begin? According to Elisabeth Åsbrink, a Swedish author and journalist, it is1947: WHERE NOW BEGINS. It seems as good a place as any.

“We speak of time as a flow, a broadly meandering river that one cannot step into twice,” Åsbrink writes early on. “We say it forms loops, yet flows onward. As it issues from a spring, has a direction and an ocean waiting somewhere.”

"[O]ne of the more fascinating items in 1947 is the introduction of the term 'genocide' into the vernacular and the eventually debilitating effects it had on Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-born lawyer credited with coining the term in its current iteration."

Some readers might find Åsbrink’s style jarring. She writes mostly in short bursts, in a month-by-month manner, using geographic datelines and ranging in length from a single sentence to multiple pages. Jumping from topic to topic like this breaks up the flow, which might well be the author’s overarching point when dealing with the concept of the ephemeralness of time. Among those topics: the slow recovery of Europe after World War II, including the Nuremberg Trials; the end of British rule in India and Palestine; and the plight of the thousands of Jews who survived the Holocaust, only to continue facing isolation, finding numerous countries unwilling to allow entry, and ultimately leading to the creation of Israel, much to the consternation of its Arab neighbors.

Along these lines, one of the more fascinating items in 1947 is the introduction of the term “genocide” into the vernacular and the eventually debilitating effects it had on Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-born lawyer credited with coining the term in its current iteration. In addition, the notion that Nazism did not end with Germany’s surrender was also unsettling, although it makes sense; you can’t turn off years of hateful philosophy like a light switch. It may not be in the spotlight any longer, but rather it slithers away to the cracks in humanity’s foundation around Eastern Europe and in Argentina.

Åsbrink interrupts the format with a chapter on “Days and Death,” which chronicles her own family story during and before the War. While one must be sympathetic, one must also wonder why she made the decision to include this.

Politics alone do not make up the events in 1947. Åsbrink includes such prominent personalities as Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, who was working on his seminal 1984; Simone de Beauvoir, the restless feminist and author of THE SECOND SEX, dealing her own romantic liaisons; fashion icon Christian Dior; and the jazz great Thelonious Monk. It’s by trying to include so many items in the space of a fairly sparse (for a book like this) 288 pages, she does not do justice to some of her choices, barely skimming the surface. But then, I don’t think 1947 was meant as an academic marker.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on February 9, 2018

1947: Where Now Begins
written by Elisabeth Åsbrink, translated by Fiona Graham

  • Publication Date: January 30, 2018
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press
  • ISBN-10: 1590518969
  • ISBN-13: 9781590518960