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One Of Us: The Inside Story of Utøya

Norway terror flag

A journalistic look at the history of Anders Beiring Breivik and what led to the 2011 terror attacks on Oslo and Utøya.

When terror hit Oslo and Utøya in July 2011, the world was stunned.

He was one of us

As it emerged that the perpetrator was Norwegian, the country struggled to come to terms with the fact that these awful acts had been committed by one of their own.

One Of Us by Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad (originally published in Norway as En av oss) opens with a prologue telling the harrowing tale of what it was like to be stranded on Utøya island with only the sound of gunshots for company.

A quick note: Seierstad's book has been turned into a Netflix movie, 22 July, which is streaming now around the world. Meanwhile, on with the book…

Flowers commemorating the Oslo and Utøya attacks
Flowers commemorating the Oslo and Utøya attacks

“The heavy rain had eased off, but some last drops were still trickling down their necks and sweaty cheeks. They took in as little air as possible, trying to breathe without a sound. A raspberry bush had strayed out onto the cliff. Wild roses, pale pink, almost white, were clinging to the dance. The they heard footsteps approaching.”

A troubled childhood

She then proceeds to explore the history of Anders Beiring Breivik from his troubled childhood to his right-wing activism and online gaming addiction, all through the lens of his lengthy trial in the Oslo courtrooms.

One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — and Its Aftermath is available now on Amazon.com and Amazon UK in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Seierstad reveals how Breivik became obsessed with “saving Norway” from the threat of Islam and multiculturalism.

He maxed out credit cards to buy sulphuric acid from used car dealers, lab equipment, shooting lessons, fertiliser and kilos of aspirin for the acetylsalic acid. He trained for months for the day and planned every aspect in meticulous detail.

Thoroughly researched

Her research includes many excerpts from police interviews and Breivik's testimony in court, not least about his motivations:

“If we can force them to change direction by executing seventy people, then that is a contribution to preventing the loss of our ethnic group, our Christianity, our culture. It will also help to preventing a civil war that could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Norwegians. It is better to commit minor barbarity than major barbarity.”

This is not an easy read, but it is a gripping one. She strikes a delicate balance of creating empathy with the victims (not a difficult task) with a fair account of Breivik's background and motivations, but this is very much a journalistic investigation rather than a story.

Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament, in Oslo
The Norwegian Parliament

In fact, the book started life as an article for Newsweek, before Seierstad started to dig deeper to understand the fuller picture.

The book stirred up many of my own memories from the incident. I'd been living in Oslo city centre for just a few months when the bomb exploded and as I was inside at the time, I hadn't quite realised what had gone on until a friend from the UK sent me a text message.

The following weeks were a very strange introduction to a new city, but it's a time that taught me a lot about the Norwegian mentality and their approach to justice.

Because of that personal connection with the incident, it's difficult for me to be truly objective about this book and to say whether it will have the same impact on you.

I can only guess that because of Seierstad's honest account – she recalls then-PM Jens Stoltenberg describing the eyes of a mother who'd just been told her daughter was not among the survivors as “like the entrance to hell” – it probably will.

Think of it as a warning sign that radicalism can come from the most unexpected of places, hidden in plain sight.

One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — and Its Aftermath is available now on Amazon.com and Amazon UK in both paperback and Kindle versions.

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

1 Comment

  1. My husband and I were in Norway at the time this happened. We were waiting for our first grandson to be born and we were on the Northwest coast far from Oslo. My daughter and son-in-law has just moved up there one month prior to 22 July. We had been down the street where the first bomb went off many times. We were at my dauthrs in laws home when this came on the tv. We were very shocked, because we see these types of shootings so often in America. We were of course shocked to see this in Norway and devastated to this happen. I started the book and was unable to finish, because if the heart breaking stories. The movie on Netflix was so good, because it focused on the strength and courage of a young man who survived and faced Brevik in court and has gone on to live a productive lif, but he will never forget. The movie was very moving and concentrated on life rather than the awful evil that was perpetrated. We see this so many times in America.

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