Sunday, March 22, 2015

Asne Seierstad's One of Us:

This is an incredibly powerful book. It's long - over 530 pages - but utterly engrossing.

But for obvious reasons it's not a pleasant read. Anders Breivik was a monster, an embodiment of sheer evil. Seierstad spends a lot of time giving us a detailed psychological profile of an abused child growing into an emotionally immature youth and finally a self-obsessed, narcissistic adult. A bully incapable of sustaining friendships much less intimate relationships. Nobody really understood him, least of all himself.

Interestingly a psychologist employed by the Norwegian Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry correctly identified the toddler Breivik's vulnerability: 'The profoundly pathological relationship between Anders and his mother means early intervention is vital to prevent serious abnormality in the boy's development. Ideally he should be transferred to a stable foster home'. The psychologist was ignored by the local child welfare office. 

Interspersed throughout the chapters on Breivik's development are the life stories of some of the young men and women of the Young Labour Party who on 22 July 2011 tragically became his victims. 

Bano, the daughter of Kurd asylum seekers who struggled to make a life in Norway after fleeing Iraq, is an inspiration. As is Simon, widely regarded as a future political leader. These and other stories build incredible suspense. We know the ending but our sympathies are utterly engaged. The ultimate tragedy happens to individuals we love and care about deeply. It is profoundly moving.

Seierstad spends quite a bit of time on Breivik's bomb making process - how and from where he purchased the materials; the months of trial and error in the chemical processing and assembly; and his self-glorifying and deluded scribblings about his noble warrior mission in freeing Europe from the Islamic hordes.

And then there is the gritty detail as the fateful day unfolds. Horrible but fascinating as a dramatic narrative. 

We are in the hands of an assured and talented writer.

At every conceivable turn the police and relevant authorities were completely inept after the bombing outside the government buildings in the centre of Oslo, allowing Breivik to drive in dense traffic to the island where the Young Labour members were holding a camping weekend. Even though witnesses to the bombing immediately informed police HQ of the make, colour and licence number of Breivik's vehicle, the inexcusable bungling cost an hour at least.

And then it took these keystone replicas another half hour to figure out how best to get across to the island. By this time Breivik had killed 77 people, including 69 teenagers.

The trial process is covered in detail and, again, is fascinating. The verdict hinged on whether Breivik was judged a 'politically motivated aggressor', in other words a terrorist, or fundamentally insane. Expert opinion differed. It truly was a psychiatric danse macabre.

The final chapters cover the aftermath, particularly for the families. It is immensely sad. 

This book is an enormously satisfying and revelatory read. Highly recommended.

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