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. During this year, Primo Levi is 28 and living in Turin, and 56-year-old Nelly Sachs is in Stockholm. Christian Dior arouses global grievance with his “New Look,” and Arnold Schoenberg creates a new musical form. Unreformed Nazis make their unimpeded way to South America, where they freely publish and deny the Holocaust. The Jewish Irgun fights the British in Palestine. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Arab League vehemently reject the U.N. partition plan. More than 4,500 displaced men, women, and children aboard the Exodus are turned away from the Holy Land. The Muslim Brotherhood began to flourish as the Marshall Plan took shape. Chuck Yeager flies faster than sound, and Britain, as it departs the subcontinent, carves Pakistan from India. It is a time when the British Empire diminishes and the Cold War flourishes. In an account that serves as the core of her book, the author’s father makes his way from deprivation and danger to safety. Throughout the book, Åsbrink artfully selects her narratives. Though romantic Anglophiles will not find a report of the marriage of Philip and Elizabeth, the love story of Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren is more intriguing (“they set their own rules for their transatlantic love, beyond convention and the law”).
A skillful and illuminating way of presenting, to wonderful effect, the cultural, political, and personal history of a year that changed the world.