My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A weighty, comprehensive look at the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway committed by Anders Breivik. Similar to Columbine & In Cold Blood, Seierstad traces Breivik’s family life & formative experiences to what eventually led to his massacre. Given equal attention are the origins of some of his victims as well as political & cultural changes in Norway. The final section focuses on the resulting trial & the immediate after effects.
This is not an easy read, says this blogger who has some experience reading true crime. Seierstad’s portrayal of her subject is at turns sad, thought-provoking, revolting, & merciless. Her exacting portrait & the balance of describing the victims’ lives create parallels & echos that chilled me. The apex, for me, were her brief scenes of describing her subjects sleeping the night before the attack, including a bomb nestled safely in its container.
The last fourth of the book is particularly powerful; some of the author’s restraint is loosened in covering the trial–a proceeding that the law fought to keep on track despite Breivik’s eagerness for spectacle. I was also struck with the idea of Norway’s “culture of words” that seems to be a underlying theme, where all sides can debate & discuss their way to a solution or compromise. If anything, this focus on discourse makes Breivik’s acts more brutal as he zig-zags his way through parties & friendships that match his interests to a manifesto cobbled together from disparate sources to finally talking himself into the “necessity” of his violence. At an early point during the shooting, one of the children says to others with them, “If he’s shooting, we should tell him to stop.” On one hand this can be a breathtakingly naive view but on the other hand, this belief also speaks to the point of why we try to better ourselves as humans–to get to the point where we don’t hurt one another. When you have someone who rejects that, how do you respond? The question has lingered with me since finishing the book.