1947 (Hardcover)

Where Now Begins

By Elisabeth Åsbrink, Fiona Graham (Translated by)

Other Press, 9781590518960, 288pp.

Publication Date: January 30, 2018

List Price: 25.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


“One of the best books, certainly the best nonfiction book, that I've read recently.” —Nancy Pearl on NPR’s Morning Edition 
“An extraordinary achievement.” —New York Times Book Review

An award-winning writer captures a year that defined the modern world, intertwining historical events around the globe with key moments from her personal history.

The year 1947 marks a turning point in the twentieth century. Peace with Germany becomes a tool to fortify the West against the threats of the Cold War. The CIA is created, Israel is about to be born, Simone de Beauvoir experiences the love of her life, an ill George Orwell is writing his last book, and Christian Dior creates the hyper-feminine New Look as women are forced out of jobs and back into the home. 

In the midst of it all, a ten-year-old Hungarian-Jewish boy resides in a refugee camp for children of parents murdered by the Nazis. This year he has to make the decision of a lifetime, one that will determine his own fate and that of his daughter yet to be born, Elisabeth.

About the Author

Elisabeth Åsbrink is a nonfiction writer and journalist. She has worked for the Swedish National Television for fifteen years as a reporter and editor for news shows, cultural programs and investigative journalism. Her book And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain (Och i Wienerwald står träden kvar) received worldwide attention for revealing new information about IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad's ties to Nazism. It won several awards, including the August Prize for Best Swedish Non-Fiction Book of the Year (2011). Åsbrink made her debut as a playwright with Tracks (Räls), based on the authentic minutes from a meeting convened by Herman Göring in 1938, and has since written four plays.

Praise For 1947: Where Now Begins

“1947 is one of those books that makes you want to major in history. It is one of the best books, certainly the best nonfiction book, that I've read recently. I think the subtitle, Where Now Begins, really speaks to one of the things that makes this book so important: The echoes of 1947 are resonating very, very clearly today.” Nancy Pearl on NPR’s Morning Edition
“The Swedish journalist Asbrink’s “1947” is an extraordinary achievement. Careening around Europe and the Middle East as well as South Asia and the United States through a singular year, she deliberately juxtaposes the intimate and the ephemeral with immensely consequential political and diplomatic developments. New inventions like the Soviet engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov’s assault rifle, the French couturier Christian Dior’s resplendent New Look, the American Navy admiral Grace Hopper’s virtuoso development of computer language, Thelonious Monk’s and Billie Holiday’s musical genius and the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin’s coinage of the term “genocide” jostle with the United Nations’ efforts to find a workable resolution for Palestine, gruesome rapes during the partition of India, anti-Semitic riots in England and the Nazi Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremberg. These, in turn, are nestled alongside evocative accounts of the ardent physicality of Simone de Beauvoir’s love for Nelson Algren, the struggles of George Orwell working on “1984” and ships filled — variously — with fugitive Nazis or displaced Jews. Amid all these gleaming fragments are meditations on the nature of historical time, the mysteries of human motivation, the endless riddle of causation and the heart-rending loss of once-possible alternatives. Asbrink is throughout attentive to the complex dynamic produced by the Holocaust’s multiple aftermaths, the urgently necessary and terrifyingly confusing process of decolonization and the consolidation of the Soviet bloc. Her constant intercutting of the world-shaking with the quotidian — including her father as a child navigating post-Nazi Budapest — underscores a challenge to more mainstream genres of history writing. The year 1947 did mark a tipping point between the savagery of the immediate past and the tentative stirrings of postwar potentialities. Ultimately most compelling is 1947’s relationship to our present. A chilling recurrent subplot involves the remarkably rapid regrouping of undeterred ex-Nazis, already inventing denialism, networking transnationally and dreaming up a renewed pan-fascist future.” —New York Times Book Review

“…[A] gripping history, formed as a patchwork of significant events. In Paris, the final names are added to the treaties ending the war; in New York, Billie Holiday plays Carnegie Hall; in Cairo, the Arab League convenes on the issue of Palestine; on a Scottish island, George Orwell completes ‘1984.’…[Åsbrink’s] careful juxtaposition of disparate events highlights an underlying interconnectedness and suggests a new way of thinking about the postwar era.”—New Yorker

“When journalist Asbrink was ten, her father left her a letter that was 19 lines long. The first 18 expressed his love; the last sentence said never to pity yourself. When Asbrink writes about 1947, she honors her father and others who disappeared under Nazi rule...During this year, writer Simone de Beauvoir went to the United States and had a passionate affair with writer Nelson Algren. A Swedish fascist created escape routes for Nazi friends. Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan wrote poetry about ultimate loss. Primo Levi’s memoirs were accepted by a publisher. George Orwell began work on his masterpiece, 1984...For the first time, genocide is recognized as a crime...Asbrink weaves personal and historical stories to show how people migrated across the world, unaccepted in their adopted countries...This superb book deserves a wide audience. In telling history through disparate voices, Asbrink effectively descries the seas of change, as times change quicker than people do.” —Library Journal, starred review

"Unearthing many forgotten details, Åsbrink illuminates this pivotal year after the end of WWII, adroitly revealing how profoundly 1947 shaped the decades that followed. Åsbrink takes an expansive, month-by-month look at world events, from the partitioning of India to escaping SS soldiers in Argentina to the grand mufti of Jerusalem to Billie Holiday topping the charts in DownBeat magazine to Simone de Beauvoir visiting New York for the first time. Åsbrink writes with sardonic passion in an immediately striking tone...A sweeping cacophony of modernity." —Booklist

“Among innumerable turning points in history, 1947, just two years after World War II ended, is a year worth review. Åsbrink's book, translated from the Swedish, makes some of that year's neglected history and high drama tangible and meaningful. With a technique reminiscent of John Dos Passos' "newsreels," the author records events from across the world (Paris, Palestine, New York, Los Angeles, Budapest, Berlin, Delhi, etc.), using the present tense to create a sense of immediacy…Throughout the book, Åsbrink artfully selects her narratives…A skillful and illuminating way of presenting, to wonderful effect, the cultural, political, and personal history of a year that changed the world.” —Kirkus Review

“Fragments. Portents, foreshadowing. Slowly gathered, sorted. Coalescing. A stream — small, then surging. That was the experience of reading '1947: Where Now Begins,' Elisabeth Åsbrink's nonfiction account of a momentous year…Åsbrink…collected much of her material from 365 daily editions of Sweden's largest newspapers…The year and the book begin slowly...but as they roll on,
Åsbrink's fragments take shape as a coherent form, much as an artwork that creates one large picture by putting together many small ones…Her story develops a power that needs no metaphor to help explain it. It's a tale of the things that make up the essence of human existence: love, family, uncertainty, horror, belonging. And the question of how we creatures cope when the unthinkable becomes reality.” —Minneaplois Star Tribune

“[I]t is a fascinating, horrifying and illuminating portrayal of circumstances that have impacted the present day, when many of the same feelings, thoughts and actions are, unfortunately, still in existence.” —Shelf Awareness

“In this remarkable work of reportage by Elisabeth Åsbrink, Sweden’s premiere literary historian assembles a compelling collage of events from Budapest, Chicago, Paris, Stockolm, Palestine and elsewhere, suggesting in their weave that there was a tipping point in modern history in the year 1947: a year during which the DNA of our modern moment, with its technological fascism and neo-fascism, was seeded to ground. It is a fun book to read in a grim way—Nelson Algren and Eleanor Roosevelt and other figures appear and submerge as the dart of Åsbrink’s attention swerves from one time zone to the next, building a portrait of the assembly of simultaneity.” —Literary Hub

Elisabeth Åsbrink writes sentences that make one gasp in admiration…[1947] should be read for its poetry, its insights, and the interweaving of personal and political judgments.” —Sydney Morning Herald

“An intriguing account of a number of significant events which occurred in a year when the world was beginning to come to terms with the fallout from the Second World War…Åsbrink deftly brings together the tangle, the mess, the aspirations, and the disappointments which characterized the period and which for her resonate personally through her family history.”Rosemary Ashton, author of One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858 

“Elisabeth Åsbrink’s lucid and vivid narrative exposes the reader to the anxious dilemmas of refugees, the calculations of lawyers in tribunals, the ennui at cocktail parties, the cynical strategies in negotiating halls, and reveals how our modern era was shaped … An outstanding work, history as it should be told.” —Salil Tripathi, Chair of the PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, and author of The Colonel Who Would Not Repent
“'Extraordinarily inventive and gripping, a uniquely personal account of a single, momentous year…” —Philippe Sands, author of East West Street
“This is history as a series of eclectic snapshots of events and episodes and people, from the Nuremberg Trials to the partition of India, during a year in which the world tried to redefine its hopes and come to terms with its failures: and it makes for fascinating, disquieting, lively, and often surprising reading.” —Caroline Moorehead, author of Village of Secrets

1947: When Now Begins from Swedish journalist and writer Elisabeth Åsbrink arrives in Australian bookshops to tell that story, and has been lauded for its new way of treating history…Serving as another example of the way non-fiction is providing much of the most innovative approaches to contemporary writing, Åsbrink’s book introduces a series of apparently unrelated episodes from 1947, all of which she sees as having continued resonance into our contemporary world…This is a wonderfully accessible account of a year.” —Transmission Press

“…fascinating, episodic study of the year 1947 is a microhistory of events, often meaningful for social rather than political reasons, that includes close-ups of the author’s family background… a wonderful example of a current semifictionalized approach to nonfiction: a readable, polemic, insightful, and often-moving inquiry into the past.” —World Literature Today

“Many works focus on the events and significance of a particular year: Ian Buruma on 1945 and Victor Sebestyen on 1946, or the alarming futurism of George Orwell’s 1984 and Boualem Sansal’s 2084. But the Swedish author Elisabeth Åsbrink has produced something altogether different: a close-up portrait of a year, structured month-by-month, each chapter composed of an apparently random collection of vignettes. Like an image created from a thousand juxtaposed pixels, Åsbrink builds a cumulative picture of 1947 through short reports on, for example, Simone de Beauvoir visiting the United States and falling for fellow author Nelson Algren…Åsbrink makes no claim to being comprehensive, nor does she identify the precise source of all her anecdotes or include an index. Less a work of history, her book is more like an ingeniously constructed novel.” —Jewish Chronicle

“1947 brings it all into focus…. Informative, provocative and also very personal.” Boston Herald
“Åsbrink writes with a sympathetic voice in an accessible style, yet with an undertone of grief. She uses an anecdotal format reminiscent of the “newsreels” in John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. Trilogy, assembling her history as if putting together a puzzle piece by piece. It forms a picture which reminds us, as Faulkner put it, that "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Jewish Book Council

“This is a story of people connected through small accidents of fate that through them together, of what people will do to survive and keep their families alive during times of war. A fascinating tale.”Candian Bookworm

“[P]owerful and enormously moving.” The Hindu

“[A] book that blends history and memoir….The conviction that the past is never really past, that it is always striking back, animates Asbrink’s work….What is unusual about her book is that she creates a sense of history unfolding in real time. Asbrink presents scenes from around the world alongside one another, making for juxtapositions that are sometimes ironic, sometimes damning, and always tinged with sadness….1947 is based entirely upon archival materials, biographies, diaries, and interviews, as well as upon Asbrink’s own family history. She is ruthless in her selection of historical vignettes, which intently follow pivotal developments over the course of the year….Asbrink’s contribution is to underscore the contingency of the post-war period, to give it a fitting form, and to show that we must learn not only from what happened, but also from everything that might have been.” —The New Republic