I grew up knowing 1947 as the year of my father’s birth, in a black-and-white faraway time. I was told about rationing and petrol coupons, as yet another chapter in the long book of ‘how good you have it now’ — along with chilblains, measles, castor oil and walking ten miles to school neck deep in snow, uphill both ways.
The Swedish author Elizabeth Åsbrink presents the year as the fulcrum of modern history, when ‘everything seemed possible, as it had already happened’. Month by month, she shows us the year through the eyes of a disparate cast of characters. Some of them are well known (George Orwell, Simone de Beauvoir, Chuck Yeager, Primo Levi), some are passers-by who happened to be in history’s path.
Åsbrink has dug into archives to find individuals whose experiences are synecdochic, such as the Palestinian girl whose house is attacked during the Nakba, or a young Romanian Jewish refugee trying to leave Europe.