Sunday, July 19, 2015

Norwegians Would

It occurred to me that while I have not seen anything of Europe other than a few airports, I’ve spent a lot of time in Norway. My husband and I both read Kristen Lavransdatter some years ago. The four volumes of The Master of Hestviken nestle in my Kindle. I’ve been working my way through Karl Ove Knaussgaard’s My Struggle (I’m about to start volume 4 of 6), and I’ve read many Jo Nesbo mysteries.

I should also mention that Edward Grieg is our house (and automobile) composer.

These are all fictional and artistic manifestations of Norway (though what Knaussgaard is doing and how well he’s doing it are open to debate).

Though Nesbo’s novels certainly suggest that all is not hunky dory in Norway, the story that Asne Seirstad tells in One of Us: The Story of Anders Brevik and the Massacre in Norway beats, in brutality, almost any murder mystery I’ve read.

The structure, dictated by the events as they unfold, is pretty simple. You spend the first half of the book learning to care about people and the second watching them die.

Anders Brevik murdered 77 people, most of them teenagers. He was responsible for a car bomb that exploded in Oslo and then the shooting deaths of dozens attending a Labor Party youth conference on the island of Utoya.

Brevik’s mother was born to a woman who contracted polio during her pregnancy and ever after blamed her daughter for her disability. She spends her early years in an orphanage When she is reunited with her mother, she becomes her caretaker. After finally escaping her claustrophobic existence she marries a diplomat, but they are soon divorced and she is left with a child she doesn’t seem to like.

Brevik’s school noted early that he had many problems and he and his mother were treated for quite a while at a child guidance clinic The clinic recommends that he be put “in another care situation.” But he remains with his mother and their difficulties continue.

As Brevik gets older he becomes obsessed about immigrants ruining Norway. He rants about multiculturalism and Islamization of Europe. Though he has a brief period where he becomes quite wealthy producing phony diplomas and certificates, eventually he moves back in with his mother and spends months in his room playing World of Warcraft.

His isolation and xenophobia contrast sharply with the openness and idealism of the young people he will kill. Seirstad focuses particularly on two young people: Simon, the son of Norwegian school teachers and Bano, a young girl who immigrates to Norway from Iraq. Bano, despite being teased because she is darker than her Norwegian classmates and can’t speak their language, becomes a sunny and engaging girl filled with ideas of how to make Norway a better place. She shares one dream with Anders Brevik. They both want to meet former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.

Bano wants to shake her hand; Anders wants to cut off her head.

Brevik plants a car bomb and kills people near government offices in Oslo. Though the police get several tips, almost everything goes wrong. Even after they have his license number it takes the Oslo police hours to realize the significance of it. When they finally figure out he’s headed to Utoya, they discover that GPS cannot show them where this small island is.

The kids on the island know something terrible has happened in Oslo. But Brevik is clever and sews a police badge on his clothing. The kids come toward him expecting to be rescued and they are shot. Even when they figure out that they’re in trouble they have nowhere to go.

Brevik is caught and tried. He sees himself not as a murderer but as a political assassin. He was working to save Norway from the next generation of multiculturalism.

He is incensed that the first team of psychologists who evaluate him after his arrest want to seem him treated not tried. He fights successfully to get another evaluation--one that will confirm that he knew very well what he was doing. He’s now serving a 21 year sentence that can be extended.

Several reviewers found this book superior to In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song. However, it’s really hard to compare them. Capote and Mailer wrote “non-fiction novels.” They felt free to wax lyrical or shade the truth. Seirstadt has written a piece of scrupulous journalism. The epilogue of the book discusses her methods of research and reporting.

It’s a wonderful book. It’s especially compelling as one sees the indifference and hostility toward immigrants around the world. But is is a very difficult read.

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson

1 comment:

  1. Moving over to Sweden for a moment ..... Not too long ago I went through a Henning Mankell phase, with blinders on for any other author! Not the TV series, just the books --- by the writer described by Stephen Moss as a man " with a lived-in face." But gloom and doom are not my cup of tea and I've given up on writers who paint life as sad and grey. tjstraw