The best books about memory and oblivion

Elisabeth Åsbrink Author Of 1947: Where Now Begins
By Elisabeth Åsbrink

Who am I?

My Hungarian father was 7 years old when he almost got deported to Polen by the Nazis, but was miraculously saved by his mother. He came to Sweden, where I´m born, and never looked back, completely focused on the future. So I, his only child, focus on memory and oblivion. It´s like we stand back to back—or like I´m a seamstress, trying to stitch the past with the present. In my British mother´s family history is Salonica, the magical Jewish city in the Ottoman Empire. My Spanish-Jewish grandfather spoke the same Castillian dialect that Cervantes used to write Don Quijote. And I´m born in Sweden. These are my universes and where my writing is born.  

I wrote...

1947: Where Now Begins

By Elisabeth Åsbrink, Fiona Graham (translator),

Book cover of 1947: Where Now Begins

What is my book about?

1947: Where Now Begins is not only a gripping family history. The careful juxtaposition of disparate events highlights an underlying interconnectedness and suggests a new way of thinking about the postwar era. The book deals with a decisive year, follows Simone de Beauvoir, Raphael Lemkin, George Orwell among others, and traces the key person, Per Engdahl, who revives the fascist and Nazi movements after WW2. A single, momentous year that is resonating very, very clearly today.

The books I picked & why

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Ordinary Men

By Christopher R. Browning,

Book cover of Ordinary Men

Why this book?

As a child of a holocaust survivor, I keep coming back to this book. Here Christopher Browning investigates the historic circumstances and the personal stories behind one police battalion of cheerful, friendly, ordinary men, who ended up being responsible for over tens of thousands of Jews during WW2. A great historian at work, helping us to comprehend the incomprehensible.

The Notebook, the Proof, the Third Lie: Three Novels

By Agota Kristof, Alan Sheridan (translator), David Watson (translator), Marc Romano (translator)

Book cover of The Notebook, the Proof, the Third Lie: Three Novels

Why this book?

Agota Kristof is the same age as my father and experienced the same country, Hungary, move from its pre-war existence to dictatorship and deportations during the war and then, after the war, turning into a communist state. Her absolutely brilliant storytelling is mystifying, present, and distant at the same time, maybe an allegory over the state of her homeland, maybe over being human. The Notebook is mindblowing.

If This Is a Man and The Truce

By Primo Levi, Stuart Woolf (translator),

Book cover of If This Is a Man and The Truce

Why this book?

Another book I keep returning to is If This Is a Man. Primo Levi, the Italian chemist, has written a matter-of-fact masterpiece, poetic yet never sentimental, about his year as a slave in the Monowitz/Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. It´s a low-key book but vibrant book about being a human surrounded by inhumanity.   

Go Tell It on the Mountain

By James Baldwin,

Book cover of Go Tell It on the Mountain

Why this book?

I only recently started to read James Baldwin and am blown away by his intensity and poetic language. In this first novel he describes the world of his childhood in Harlem, NY. It is American identity, history, and passion, it´s a portrait of a young man as well of the wounds of slavery hurting in every individual born into the American system. And it’s a beautiful story.


By Madeline Miller,

Book cover of Circe

Why this book?

An exiled witch takes centre stage in this powerful retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey. This book may be damaged by its own hype, but I read it when it was quite newly released and loved every sentence of this love story, where anger, cruelty, and mythical betrayal are ingredients. A great way of getting in touch with the archaic works of Homer. 

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