1947: When Now Begins by Elisabeth Åsbrink (translated by Fiona Graham)

February 2020

I’d been wanting to read this book for ages and finally found a seemingly unread copy in a local second-hand bookstore - win! It’s a fairly short, fast-reading overview of a post-WWII year in which part of the foundations of our current society were laid (for better or worse). The book is divided up into months of the year, with each month/chapter further divided into short vignettes based on geographical locations (“London”, “Buenos Aires”, “Geneva”). Towards the middle of the book, and again at the end, the author breaks out of the global historic overview and offers brief, oblique insights into her own family’s story, marked by the horrors of WWII like so many others. There is a certain “obliqueness” to much of the book, actually, which makes me suspect that it would help to have at least some knowledge of mid-20th-century history to get the full effect of the snapshot stories recounted here. But even without any prior knowledge, I think this book would be engaging for anyone with some interest in how we got to “now.” Kudos also to the translator, Fiona Graham. I obviously can’t compare this text to the Swedish original, but after the first few pages I completely forgot that I was reading a translation. This is a pretty big deal, because I usually find it almost impossible to turn off my translator brain if I’m reading a book I know was originally written in another language (particularly non-fiction, particular when it’s subject matter I’m familiar with). Well done, Fiona, from one translator to another!

Further reading…