For the purposes of background to this review, I have copied the original blurb: ‘On 22 July 2011 Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians in a terrorist atrocity that shocked the world. One of Us is the definitive account of the massacres and the subsequent trial. But more than that, it is the compelling story of Anders Breivik and a select group of his victims. As we follow the path to their inevitable collision, it becomes clear just what was lost in that one day.’
It’s always going to be difficult to review a book about such a sickening and notorious crime as the massacre which happened on the island of Utoya in July 2011, and the bomb attack which happened in central Oslo just beforehand. Norway is one of my favourite countries, and Oslo is certainly one of the most peaceful and friendly places I have ever visited. I was even more shocked, therefore, when I learnt about Breivik’s crime. What occurred was reported in the British media, but relatively few details emerged about the trial. When I spotted One of Us in Fopp, I decided to pick it up to learn as much as I could. The fact that it is written by Asne Seierstad also swayed me, as I very much enjoyed her fascinating The Bookseller of Kabul when I read it a few years ago.
One of Us is the very pinnacle of excellent journalism. Seierstad has taken her subject and written about his entire life, as well as taking into account elements of his parents’ lives to see what, if anything, rubbed off on Breivik and caused him to have the views which he so firmly holds. Seierstad is thorough, but this will surprise nobody who is familiar with her work. I have read several reviews which stated that One of Us is far too drawn out in places. I did not get this impression at all; rather, the very depth of the details which she included, and the scope of her study, was of the utmost importance to try and understand Breivik and his motivations. (I still do not, but that is by the by).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I learnt far more than I did throughout the original media coverage, and in retrospect, I feel that One of Us is one of the most important books I have ever read. I admire Seierstad and the amount of scholarship which has gone into every single page of this book. She gives such weight to the victims, picking out several of them and giving their backstories, which again was such an important element of the whole for me. One of Us is a masterful work, which has been fluidly translated into English. It is a book which I would – and will – recommend to everyone.