This book was an excellent but very challenging read, the subject matter not being most people’s normal fare.
In 2011, Anders Breivik shot dead 67 teenagers who had gathered on Utøya Island; young people with a social conscience and a desire to make their mark. Two hours prior, he had left behind 8 dead and 207 injured in a car bombing outside the Prime Minister’s office block in Oslo.
Like most people who watched this atrocity play out on TV footage, the biggest question for Seierstad was,”What would motivate anyone to commit such an act?”
In this brilliantly written, deftly paced book, Seierstad delves deeply into the lives of Breivik and two of his young victims. She attempts to give us answers, shining the light on the somewhat miserable life of Breivik: his rootlessness, his lack of social skills or empathy, his coldness and glacial pomposity; in comparison to the quite opposite lives of Simon Saebo and Bano Rashid up until the point that they were killed. Their future was most likely to be one of achievement, if their lives up until that point were any indication.
They didn’t get to live those lives but Seierstad honours them and their fellow victims by her writing and by her well researched efforts to unearth the paths they all followed, leading to their meeting under such horrid circumstances.
Like perpetrators and victims in most modern mass murders, the profiles are hauntingly similar and if anything, this book put me in my mind of the massacre at Columbine High School, simply for the terror that the victims faced, the closeness, the unexpectedness of their attacker, the planned randomness. Equally, the Oslo car bombing was reminiscent of the Oklahoma City Bombing, especially in the materials used. There is never much individuality in the actions of these perpetrators and it is chilling to think of the attention Breivik may have given to these prior events.
This is a book that draws you in, carries you along and leaves you in awe of the authors’ abilities, especially her ability to make the unbearable at least readable. While the events on Utøya Island in particular are not easy reading this is a book well worth your reading time.
Reviewed by Marion Dreadon
One of Us
by Åsne Seierstad
Published by Virago Press