The award-winning Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad, best known for her account of an Afghan family living under the Taliban, The Bookseller of Kabul, has turned her attention to a subject closer to home for her next book: Anders Breivik, and the 77 people he killed nearly three years ago.
En Av Oss (One of Us), which has already been published in Scandinavia to great acclaim, and which will be released in the UK next spring, is “the hardest book I have ever written”, said Seierstad. She spoke to Breivik’s parents – interviewing his mother shortly before she died – and his friends, and received letters from Breivik himself in the course of writing the book, also interviewing the families of the victims who died on Utøya in July 2011.
“For almost 20 years I had been covering crises, wars and conflicts on the other side of the world, when the catastrophe struck at home. Tragedies always happened elsewhere. Norway was a place I loved, where I had my family, where I went skiing, where I recharged my batteries, until I went out again to try to understand how other people lived and coped with conflict, how they fought, and how they rebuilt their society after the wars were over”
“Through friends, family, his mother, his father, and through his own letters to me, I try to grasp his story and try to find out what formed him, and what made him step to terrorism,” said Seierstad, who while writing the book discovered Breivik had lived on her street for three years. “I also follow some of his victims, from [when] they are born, in different places in Norway, until the horrible day at Utøya, and after that I follow those who survived, and the grief and sorrow of those who lost their loved ones. What formed them? What ideas did they die fighting for?”
“In July 2011, I had just come back from events in Egypt, to rest on an island on the southern shore of Norway with friends and family. I was taken totally off guard, and my shock [that] something like this could happen at home was a great as anybody else’s. The next day I realised he had lived in my neighbourhood. It was impossible to understand. It took me a long time before I decided to write about it. I was avoiding it for a long time, and I went back to my book project in Tripoli, Libya, until I understood I had to go back to Oslo.”