In Brief—A review of Åsne Seierstad’s powerfully written book “One of Us.” Read it and weep. I did.
Death and Destruction—
“One of Us” is the most powerful book I’ve ever read. Written by the talented Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad, it’s the harrowing chronicle of the life and horrific deed of Anders Breivik who carried out the most irrational and bloody massacre Scandinavia has experienced in modern times.
Captivated by the Dwight Garner review in the New York Times, I was struck by the emotion displayed by the normally analytical Garner. The review and the glowing reputation of Ms. Seierstad who wrote the highly-praised “The Bookseller of Kabul” prompted me to buy and read “One of Us.” I found the book to be beautifully written and uncompromising in its description of what was one of the most cold-blooded mass murders ever put down on paper.
The subject of this book is neither a member of al-Queda nor even of foreign origin. He is a native Norwegian with blond hair and blue eyes. Thus, he is “one of us” as Ms. Seierstad declares in the book’s title. A troubled child from a broken marriage, Breivik grew up in a world and society that has experienced escaping immigrants and refugees from the war-torn parts of the world. Over the years, this misfit absorbed the worst of society’s suspicions and paranoia that infects not just Norway but the rest of the world.
Relying on extensive interviews, courtroom observation and official documents, Ms. Seierstad documents Breivik’s days as an unlawful graffiti “tagger,” his politicization and right-wing phase, his descent into compulsive online gaming, his seduction by the paranoid world of vehemently anti-Muslim web sites and his planning for attack in the deluded belief that he was saving Europe. Always a failure, always an isolated misfit, Breivik’s character is twisted by his warped world-view.
She describes his fevered bomb-building, the violent deaths of government employees and the destruction of the Prime Minister’s offices leading up to his callous murders of dozens of innocent children enjoying a summer holiday on the island. Seierstad describes the visceral grief of family members, the confusion, fears and guilt of the victims, the survivors and the parents. We experience the trial. The sentence. Prison. It’s all there. It’s a trip into darkness. It’s a picture of Hell.
I watched the transformation of a once human child into a narcissistic monster twisted by hate and ignorance. Intelligence masking an underlying irrationality. At times, I was gripped by anger at Breivik’s cold callousness and at others I found myself rooting for children in the path of death. I read of horrific murder while remaining surprisingly dry-eyed.
It wasn’t until the aftermath when the dead young victims were being quietly processed that I was suddenly wracked by sobs and tears of grief as if those children were my own. Tears flooded my face. The horror of it all will be with me for a long time.
Vengeance against the perpetrator is the usual reaction, but I am an opponent of the death penalty. I remain an opponent of the death penalty. Better to study this poor creature’s evolution and learn about the dark avenues of human nature than to take revenge in behalf of the dead children and grief-stricken parents. The dead cannot return and the grief can never be assuaged by taking yet another life.
I recommend this powerful book to everybody reading my blog. But steel yourself for an emotional wrenching. Prepare yourself…but read it. It’s the future. It’s reality.
Despite our most fervent hopes, this will happen again. Anders Breivik is a hero to many confused souls in today’s mixed-up world. There’s a maelstrom of hate out there. Copycat attempts have already been foiled. More will come. It’s human nature.