Reviewed by Thor A Larsen
Asne Seierstad, a Norwegian journalist and writer whose credentials include books on Afghanistan (The Book Seller of Kabul) as well as books on life in Iraq, and Chechnya during brutal conflicts, turned her attention to the most brutal event in Norway since World War II, the Massacre of 77 people in Oslo and Utoya Island in the year 2011. The book was riveting to read!!!
Ms. Seierstad provides a comprehensive and captivating work, based on extraordinary research, interviews of a broad range of people who were part of Anders life, affected directly or indirectly by his actions, as well as police and government officials. One aspect of the book that I found especially meaningful was to describe the personalities of some of the victims, bright, young and very committed to the Labor Party youth movement. We learned about their life before the tragedy, how they died and the pain the parents suffered afterwards.
The story is vivid in describing Anders from a small child until a 32 year old terrorist with no empathy after he had completed his brutal crimes. Amongst the stresses Anders endured growing up included the total rejection of his father and ‘warped’ relationship with his mother. The reader quickly becomes immersed in Anders life as he grows up, what his personality was and evolved to after a series of personal setbacks. Ms. Seierstad was able to bring the reader into the mind of this deranged human clearly and without any bias.
Anders in his late teens and early 20’s developed interest in politics, with a strong attraction to the Progressive party, a very conservative party and strong negative views against the philosophies of the left-leading Labor Party. In fact, Anders was strongly against immigration, Muslims as well as the feminism movements. He tried to become a leader, but failed. After a period of several failures to be accepted, and even more important, a final rejection of his estranged father drove Anders into isolation. Anders moved back to and remained in his mother’s house for several years, never going out, disconnected from all, living within the make-believe world of video games. As Anders had said to an interviewer, the worst that he felt was that he was not loved. Anders mother provided a home for his adult son but she was limited due to her paranoid schizophrenic mental issue.
Although Anders did have psychological issues during his childhood and adulthood, he was intelligent and avid learner. As his directions started to become more bizarre, he started to write a manifesto on his beliefs, utilizing Internet sources of anti-Muslim, anti-feminism materials to make his case. It is clear that he had on-line sympathizers in Norway. Anders next step was to plan to take action in his fight against the liberal directions of the Labor Party.
In preparing for this ‘fight’, Anders was quite capable in finding a farm to live at where he meticulously built a bomb of fertilizer, and acquiring other explosives and guns to use in his attack. He planned his bombing plan meticulously and succeeded due to lax security. Anders, dressed as a policeman, calmly drove to the banks of the lake where the island of Utoya was located. He went on a small boat to the island with others claiming he was sent there for additional security. As he landed on the island, Anders remained calm, opened his satchel which carried his rifle and began shooting. He managed to keep shooting for about an hour, unaffected by the screams of the victims as he walked around the island.
The police were incredibly inept to putting together a response force when phone messages came from the students on the island to scream about a shooter on the island. Sadly, it took the killing of 69 young people before Anders called the police to indicate he wanted to surrender.
Ms. Seiersted provided a detailed accounting of the trial where the main issue was whether Anders Brevik was considered sane or not. During the trial and its aftermath, the author provided a sensitive description of the pain and suffering of family members of several victims during and after the trial.
As you read this outstanding ‘historical novel’ of Norway’s tragedy, you have to endure emotional pain as you learn in graphic detail how some of the young people died. You also become very angry of the remarkable incompetence of security personnel in Oslo and the local police ‘ inability to communicate’, and take action until many additional lives are lost. But, on the other hand, there were many aspects of this story that restored your faith in the Norwegian spirit. There were several reported ‘young heroes’ who gave their lives to save others. The nation, led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who led many rallies of peace and love, as there were no evidence of any violence after this horrific act.
“One of Us’ not only explores Anders Breivik’s path to violence, but also provides an effective window on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments in Norway. On the other hand, we learn of very well integrated Muslims who love Norway and its way of life. We learn a great deal about the Progressive party and the Labor Party, especially about the very committed young people of the Labor Party. Also, we are provided an effective view on Norway’s legal system and punishment.
This book is a must read for anyone who wish to understand Modern Norway, events leading up to its July 22, 2011 tragedy and its aftermath.