One Of Us: The Story Of Anders Breivik And The Massacre In Norway

Author: Asne Seierstad
Publisher: Farrer, Strauss & Giroux

Before the horrific 2011 massacre of 77 people in Norway, no one – not even Norwegians – knew much about Anders Behring Breivik. And since his capture and incarceration, the man has remained pretty much of a cipher.

In One Of Us, Norwegian journalist and author Asne Seierstad (who published the bestselling Bookseller Of Kabul in 2001) attempts to shine a light on why Breivik did what he did and what the aftermath has been like.

Seierstad not only reconstructs the events of July 22, 2011, but, to set the scene, goes as far back as the mid-1970s, to the time before Breivik’s 1979 birth, before political and economic refugees started arriving in Norway.

The son of a diplomat father and a mother with psychiatric problems, Breivik had an unhappy childhood.

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His mother, Wenche, was the product of an illicit union who never managed to shake off the (perhaps self-imposed) stigma of being illegitimate. Wenche and Breivik did not have a cordial relationship, with the mother often telling her son she wished he was dead. Despite their stormy relationship, however, Breivik lived with Wenche until well into his 20s; he was 32 at the time of the massacre.

Jens, Breivik’s father, was a cold man who severed ties with all four of his children (all with different women); the only parental affection Breivik got was from his father’s third wife who genuinely seemed to like the young boy.

Elizabeth, his half-sister (a product of his mother’s liaison before she met and married his father), left home at 18, escaping to faraway California to start a new life.

By the end of the 1980s, Norway began opening its doors to immigrants escaping their home countries in search of a better – and for some safer – life.

The first friends Breivik made as a teenager were actually Pakistani. Breivik and his Asian friends would traipse from one end of Oslo to the other, spraying graffiti on trains and in public spaces. He also listened to American rap music and imitated the way rap artists dressed.

Although he was happy during this period, somewhere along the way, Breivik discovered violent video games – his addiction is World Of Warcraft – and chat rooms.

He began locking himself away in his room for days, playing these games and chatting with other gamers, many of whom thought Breivik took the gaming too seriously.

Seierstad writes that Breivik’s online name was Andersnordic – a sign, perhaps, of his developing right wing views and his preference to keep his country as Aryan as possible amidst the cultural and social changes happening in Norway (and the rest of the world).

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Asne Seierstad, author of One Of Us.

However, One Of Us is not solely about Breivik. To give a balanced account, Seierstad also provides detailed biographies of two of Breivik’s victims: Bano Rashid, a refugee whose family left the uprising in Iraq for the safety of Norway; and Simon Saebo, a native Norwegian who wanted to make a difference. Rashid the immigrant, Saebo the welcoming socialist – both types of people that Breivik hates, as evident in his 1,000-page manifesto.

Using published documents, interviewing friends and relatives (it has been reported that one in four Norwegians knew someone who was either directly or indirectly affected by the 2011 massacre), covering Breivik’s trial, and shifting through his manifesto and diaries, Seierstad has pieced together a horrifying tale of a young man who continues to show no remorse for what he has done.

I have to say I found One Of Us an uncomfortable read. The subject matter can be hard to digest, and the question “how can a person have so much hate” often arises. Kudos to Seierstad for not attempting to answer this question, as Breivik himself does not know where his hatred comes from.

Though she does not judge or impose her own morality, Seierstad does subtly encode one message in this book: that hatred may not be an outside force, but could be nurtured from within – and extremism of any sort is far from healthy.