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the Complete Review
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One of Us

Åsne Seierstad

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To purchase One of Us

Title: One of Us
Author: Åsne Seierstad
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 522 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: One of Us - US
One of Us - UK
One of Us - Canada
One of Us - India
  • Norwegian title: En av oss
  • Translated by Sarah Death

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Our Assessment:

B : thorough report on the events of 22 July 2011 and the person responsible

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftonbladet . 19/11/2013 Åsa Linderborg
Evening Standard . 19/2/2015 David Sexton
Expressen . 18/11/2013 P.O.Enquist
Financial Times . 13/3/2015 John Lloyd
The Independent A 14/3/2015 Oliver Poole
The NY Times . 10/4/2015 Dwight Garner
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/4/2015 Eric Schlosser
The Observer . 8/3/2015 Andrew Anthony
The Spectator . 14/3/2015 Ian Thomson
Sunday Times . 1/3/2015 Matthew Campbell
Svenska Dagbladet . 19/11/2013 Sam Sundberg
The Telegraph . 9/3/2015 Stav Sherez
The Times . 28/2/2015 Roger Boyes

  From the Reviews:
  • "Trots invändningarna kan jag rekommendera Åsne Seierstads bok. Hon har skrivit en lättillgänglig framställning om det mest fasansfulla – hon gör smärtsamma närporträtt av några av offren - och möjliggör därmed en ingång i ett terrordåd som vi aldrig får glömma. Det är upp till oss andra att ta strid om vad vi ska lära oss av tragedin." - Åsa Linderborg, Aftonbladet

  • "Seierstad reports Breivikís thinking with such clarity and objectivity that there is a danger that she might be giving it too much of a hearing. (...) But ultimately One of Us looks straight at horror and doesnít flinch: it is classic reporting." - David Sexton, Evening Standard

  • "Allting tycks sagt. Fast mycket beror på hur man lägger samman pusselbitarna. Och några trådar tål att dröja vid. (...) När jag läste Åsne Seierstads brutala reportage var det konstigt nog beskrivningen av den Breivik som blev spelberoende som skrämde mig mest." - Per Olov Enquist, Expressen

  • "Seierstadís approach, and her eye both for detail and for drama, is most apparent in the long, hideously riveting passage in which she describes Breivik striding about the small island, full of terrified teenagers seeking hiding places, picking them off individually or in groups. (...) There is a cost to Seierstadís style. We get some, but not much, of the political context; less about the way in which Norway came -- or did not come -- to terms with the rapid immigration it underwent in the 2000s." - John Lloyd, Financial Times

  • "It is a brilliant if unrelenting piece of reportage, one that cements Seierstad as among the foremost journalists or our time. Yet the section detailing the events that summer day in 2011 is not even what makes One of Us so special. What achieves that is how she has pieced together not his massacre but Breivik himself." - Oliver Poole, The Independent

  • "Itís a sober book that smells like fresh construction, a house built from plain hard facts. Youíre forced to bring your own emotion, and it pools beneath the steady sentences. (...) Iíd be lying if I said I didnít read the final half of One of Us with perpetually moist cheeks." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "One of Us has the feel of a nonfiction novel. (...) The flaws in One of Us are relatively minor. Seierstadís prose is vivid and clear, but this translation does not always serve her well. (...) On the whole, Seierstad has written a remarkable book, full of sorrow and compassion." - Eric Schlosser, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Seierstad, a fine journalist best known for The Bookseller of Kabul, weaves her depiction of Breivik around vivid portraits of several of the young people he killed. Sometimes the pathos of the scenes of the teenagers with their families leading up to Utøya is almost unbearable." - Andrew Anthony, The Observer

  • "Seierstad (...) has chronicled Breivik and his twisted ideology with immense narrative verve and psychological acuity. Drawing on trial transcripts, police reports and interviews with survivors, she describes a deepening social malaise in Norway and one manís wish to undermine its social-democratic experiment in a burst of bloodshed." - Ian Thomson, The Spectator

  • "Det kusliga med Breivikporträttet är att han till synes är så ordinär. (...) Seierstads enormt välskrivna skildring av gärningsmannen, offren och det Norge där detta på något sätt kunde ske gör det abstrakta verkligt och visar hur de mest fruktansvärda fasor kan ta form helt nära allt vi uppfattar som tryggt och normalt." - Sam Sundberg, Svenska Dagbladet

  • "By choosing to eschew contextualisation, Seierstad wisely avoids demonising Breivik or resorting to metaphysical concepts of "evil" to explain him away and, as such, One of Us isnít the key that unlocks his life; nor does it set out to be. (...) Breivik is very much a product of the 21st century and its attendant culture wars, and thus far closer to the jihadis heís opposing. Itís one of many ironies that pervade Seierstadís masterful and forensically detailed account of what may be the first cultural-ideological spree killing in history." - Stav Sherez, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       On 22 July 2011 Anders Breivik detonated a car-bomb in Oslo, killing eight people, and then went to the small island of Utøya, where he shot sixty-nine people at a youth camp organized by the Norwegian Labor Party. Journalist Åsne Seierstad's book chronicles the life of Breivik leading up to these events, and then closely describes his preparations and the actual killings, as well as then the trial and some of the aftermath.
       Born in 1979, Breivik's parents split up when he was young and he had little contact with his father -- seeing him for the last time when he was fifteen -- while his mother seems to have exerted little control over the child. His father had several other children, all of whom he was estranged from -- i.e. he was definitely not the parental, nurturing type -- but perhaps tellingly, Breivik's pseudo-utopian vision of a restored civilization nevertheless would see to it that: "Fathers would always be given custody of their children in cases of parents splitting up."
       Breivik looked for a place in a variety of groups -- without success: he was a teenage graffiti artist, but found himself marginalized; he wanted to be active in the Norwegian Progress Party, but wasn't seen as leader-material; he became a 'World of Warcraft'-fanatic, but never quite reached the heights he aspired to. For a while he was a successful entrepreneur -- albeit just at selling fake diplomas -- but eventually he wound up moving back in with mommy, into her too-small apartment.
       Breivik was ideologically obsessed, believing Norway -- and all of Europe -- was on the road to disaster because of immigration, specifically of Muslims. He blamed the Labor governments, and the spread of feminism, for this weakening of the fabric of Norwegian society. Spouting the usual European right-leaning (or American Republican and Tea Party) lines, he began work on a massive 'manifesto' (published on the day of the attacks, as 2083: A European Declaration of Independence).
       His preparations for the attacks of 22 July were well-planned: among other things, in order to purchase the fertilizer he required for his car-bomb, Breivik had to prove he was a farmer, so he actually rented a farm -- providing him also the isolated space and time to prepare the materials, a lengthy and arduous process in itself.
       Seierstad's meticulous factual, documentary report becomes chilling as she chronicles the preparations and then the attacks. She notes a number of occasions when Breivik's plot might have been discovered and he could have possibly been stopped -- in particular, numerous failures between the time of the bombing and Breivik reaching Utøya -- but does not pass judgment: as throughout, the facts speak for themselves.
       One of Us offers a useful, thorough picture of Breivik's life and activities. Not unintelligent, he seems to be an obsessive type, craving attention and validation. While he had difficulty maintaining close relationships -- he resorted to trying out a Belarusian mail-order bride, but that didn't work out either -- he did maintain friendships, and even if he seemed obsessed with his anti-immigrant philosophy he was not so militant about it as to scare off most of those he knew. Seierstad also does a good job of presenting the Norwegian context, and the changing face of a Norwegian society in which, for example, in the first fifteen years of Breivik's life: "the number of non-Western immigrants in Norway had risen almost fivefold".
       The leap from dime-a-dozen internet-obsessed crack-pot to mass-murderer proved to be rather too easy -- facilitated by easy access to guns. Luck -- if one can call it that -- played a role in just how great the carnage was, too.
       Less successful in Seierstad's account are interspersed chapters providing background about some of the victims. She focuses on only a few, but chronicles how they came to be in Utøya closely -- so, for example, in following the life-story of sisters whose families had immigrated from war-torn Iraq. While useful in also providing some background about, for example, the immigrant experience in Norway (e.g. the constant concern re. continued residency), it also feels a bit at odds with the story. On the one hand, of course the stories of the victims are important -- but this does not seem the place for them. In selecting only a very few the remaining victims remain almost anonymous; in telling their stories as part of Breivik's Seierstad runs the danger of defining them as victims, rather than individuals. This reader, at least, was very uncomfortable with the inclusion of these chapters and stories in this account.
       One of Us also poses the larger question of whether this murderous buffoon deserves such a platform at all. True, the information -- and his manifesto -- is out there in any case. Whether the story and his 'success' are inspiring to like-minded readers is unclear: one would like to imagine that no one could admire a figure like this, or the actions he took, but rather too many people appear sympathetic -- certainly to Breivik's motivation, if not necessarily his actions.
       As an account of Breivik and his actions, One of Us by and large takes the right, neutral, documentary approach, and is a useful, thorough one-volume overview of what happened. As to the more significant questions -- of how could something like this happen, and what can be done to prevent it (as well as to prevent some of the shocking lapses that occurred) -- that discussion, in any case, belongs elsewhere.
       In some ways it's hard to recommend such a chronicle of recent horrors -- but ignoring it and them doesn't make the world a different or better place either. It's unclear that we need to read about such evil, but if you do Seierstad's book is a fairly responsible one, and provides most of the information -- if not the answers -- readers might want.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 March 2015

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One of Us: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad was born in 1970.

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© 2015 the complete review

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