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One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath Paperback – April 12, 2016
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Named among the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, NPR, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Publishers Weekly, and Men’s Journal
Finalist for the New York Public Library's 2016 Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism
“One of Us has the feel of a nonfiction novel. Like Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, it has an omniscient narrator who tells the story of brutal murders and, by implication, sheds light on the society partly responsible for them. Although those two books are beautifully written, I found One of Us to be more powerful and compelling . . . As Seierstad weaves the stories of Utoya's campers with her central narrative about Breivik-revealing the mundane details of their family lives, their youthful ambitions, idealism and naiveté-the book attains an almost unbearable weight. This tragedy isn't literary and symbolic; it's the real thing . . . Seierstad has written a remarkable book, full of sorrow and compassion. After spending years away from home as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Iraq, bearing witness to the crimes of other nations, she has confronted Norway's greatest trauma since the Nazi occupation, without flinching and without simplifying . . . One of Us must have been difficult to write, and yet from the opening pages it has an irresistible force.” ―Eric Schlosser, The New York Times Book Review
“The roughly 70 pages Ms. Seierstad devotes to [the attacks] are harrowing in their forensic exactitude . . . These scenes are balanced by moments of tremendous heroism, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't read the final half of One of Us with perpetually moist cheeks . . . The nonfiction horror story told in One of Us moves slowly, inexorably and with tremendous authority . . . The epilogue, about her methods, should be required reading in journalism schools . . . It's said that exact detail is uniquely helpful when it comes to mending after terrible events. If it is true, as Stephen Jay Gould contended, that 'nothing matches the holiness and fascination of accurate and intricate detail,' then Ms. Seierstad has delivered a holy volume indeed.” ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Engrossing, important . . . There are many, many indelible images in Seierstad's account . . . As hard as it is to read about the attack, as frustrating as it is to learn how many delaying mistakes the first responders made and as monstrous as Breivik is, [his victims] on that island that day were beautiful in their idealism. They deserve to be witnessed, which is the ultimate reason to read One of Us.” ―Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s “Fresh Air”
“One of Us is a masterpiece of journalism, a deeply painful chronicle of an inexplicable and horrifying attack that we'll likely never understand . . .[A] brilliant, unforgettable book.” ―Michael Schaub, NPR
“One Of Us reads like a true crime novel, but it has the journalistic chops to back it up . . . Not only a stunning achievement in journalism, it's a touchstone on how to write about tragedy with detail, honesty, and compassion.” ―Samantha Edwards, A.V. Club
“Unforgettable.” ―Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
“A vivid, thoroughly researched, and suspenseful account of the 2011 massacre that killed 77 people in her native Norway . . . The book features evocative portraits of some of the victims and brims with vivid descriptions of the villages, city squares, buildings, and fjords of Norway, touching on the country's politics, changing demographics, and cultural shifts. With a reporter's passion for details and a novelist's sense of story, Seierstad's book is at once an unforgettable account of a national tragedy and a lively portrait of contemporary Norway.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Asne Seierstad's One of Us is almost unbearable to read and absolutely impossible to turn away from: its account of an unthinkable tragedy is reported with staggering rigor and recounted with grace. It's hard to leave this book without feeling incredible grief, without feeling shaken to the core, without feeling urged toward essential questions about what we call evil and how it comes to pass.” ―Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams
“A chilling descent into the mind of mass murderer Anders Breivik . . . [Seierstad's] explorations of Breivik . . . have the unsettling quality that readers will associate with novelist Stieg Larsson . . . [One of Us] packs all the frightening power of a good horror novel.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“An exhaustive account . . . This book throws a great deal of light on the life and times of a miserable killer.” ―Ian Buruma, The Guardian
“This is journalism at its very best . . . Undoubtedly Seierstad's most powerful narrative to date.” ―Matthew Campbell, The Sunday Times
“An astonishing piece of work . . . One of Us looks straight at horror and doesn't flinch: it is classic reporting . . . We need to take note.” ―David Sexton, London Evening Standard
“Scrupulously researched . . . [Seierstad] has a remarkable eye for the haunting detail, particularly of empathy, and of grief.” ―Craig Brown, Daily Mail
“Powerful . . . It's hard to see how, as a definitive account of what happened that awful July day, it could ever be bettered.” ―Eilis O'Hanlon, Irish Independent
“[A] masterful and forensically detailed account of what may be the first cultural-ideological spree killing in history.” ―Stav Sherez, The Telegraph
“A stunningly good piece of journalism . . .a rich and timely study.” ―Jonathan Green, Sydney Morning Herald
“Seierstad's enormously well written depictions of the perpetrator, the victims, and the Norway where this could happen makes the abstract real and shows us that the most horrible things can take place among all that we perceive as safe and normal. The wounds from Utøya will not heal on its own. They need Åsne Seierstad's brave, sensitive, and competent treatment. Seierstad succeeds in writing the dead back to life, even though the story inexorably pushes them to a tragic ending.” ―Sam Sundgren, Svenska Dagbladet
“It is a broad, well written, and important story, in form and writing much like a novel. Seierstad follows some of the people whose destinies abruptly cross one another on the island of Utøya, partly the perpetrator and partly some of his victims. She meets them all with compassion, at eye level--a close-up technique that makes the moment when the bullets start to fly almost unbearable. I have seldom read a depiction of violence under such great agony.” ―Lars Linder, Dagens Nyheter
About the Author
Åsne Seierstad is an award-winning Norwegian journalist and writer known for her work as a war correspondent. She is the author of The Bookseller of Kabul, One Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal, and Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya. She lives in Oslo, Norway.
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Top customer reviews
In following Breivik's warped life, Seierstad scrapes away the gloss on Norway's—and the world's—efforts to integrate refugees into society and lays bare the gross failings of Norway's police effort. The trial of the murderer, Breivik, and his early life in prison is part of this engrossing tale. It's absolutely the most powerful book Ive ever read.
ONE OF US is journalism and Asne Seierstad does a tremendous job at presenting the backstory and facts of Breivik’s crimes. As she points out in her epilogue, there is a voluminous record of these crimes, due to police interrogation of Breivik, the prosecutor’s decision to investigate and document each murder, and analysis of Breivik by numerous court-appointed psychiatrists. This record enables Seierstad to present the sequence and details of many murders at the camp and even enter Breivik’s mind during his murderous spree. For example: “He fired at someone swimming. Between the trees he spied two figures. A Norwegian man and an Arab woman, he would later call them. They looked very disorientated, he thought.”
I read ONE OF US with several questions in mind. These included:
o Who could commit such a heinous deed? Breivik was an ambitious and delusional narcissist who, before committing his crimes, spent five years alone in his room playing intense computer games, visiting lunatic-fringe web sites, and trying to develop relationships with right-wing bloggers. Observed a court psychiatrist: “At his core, there is just a deeply lonely man… We have here not only a right-wing extremist bastard… His personality and extreme right-wing ideology combined in an effort to get out of his own prison…”
o What actually happened? Seierstad gets an A+.
o Did the police respond competently? Throughout the chapter “Friday”, Seierstad shows how the police reacted as Breivik detonated his bomb and carried on his hour-long massacre. This response was utterly incompetent. But it is also overpowered in the narrative by the egregiousness of Breivik’s actions. As a result, I was pleased when Seierstad, near the end of her book, allowed a father of a murdered boy to recapitulate the policing debacle. “Could one say that the police were inattentive on 22 July? Could one say the authorities were inattentive beforehand? Could one say it was irresponsible that the crew of Norway’s sole police helicopter were all on leave for the whole of July? Could one say that individual police officers had not followed the instructions for a ‘shooting in progress’ situation, indicating that a direct intervention was required? Should anyone be charged with negligence?”
Nonetheless, there is a flaw in this book that I found distracting. It is that Seierstad, a journalist, doesn’t do very good character sketches. As a result, her portrayals of the victims of this atrocity are dull and unconvincing. Yes, these were elite and successful teenagers at the Utoya summer camp and Seierstad wants to show respect to them and their parents. But in doing so, she makes the victims virtuously bland.
Not an easy read but recommended.
And the fact that the author takes the time and care to tell us about some of the victims' lives makes everything so much more powerful--the only thing I can compare it to Robert Kolker's "Lost Girls," in which the author *only* can write about the victims' lives (as their murderer is still unknown). Letting us get to know some of the victims makes the inevitable tragedy that much more "real"--and I felt like I was mourning the victims for days and days after I finished reading the book.
One thing that made me pause was how many social services were offered to the family and to Anders when he was small. They all tried their very best to help, but evidently pouring money into social services doesn't always work.
Seierstad should have received awards for this book. She is an excellent author.
I'm going to order another of her books.