Title: The Redbreast
Author: Jo Nesbø
I am back with a second book review of Jo Nesbø’s Detective Harry Hole but this time it coincided with the Norway attacks that BBC called, “the worst peacetime massacre in the country’s modern history.” It felt almost weirdly surreal that as I was slowly unraveling the story plot, what was fictional became larger than life and essentially reflected reality.
The Redbreast is written by Norwegian writer Nesbø featuring the fictional Detective Harry Hole from the Crime Squad who is every bit an atypical law enforcer – heavy smoker, alcoholic and spotting a disheveled appearance – essentially, a loose cannon in the police force. This book is a prequel to The Devil’s Star, which I have previously did a review on, so if you are interested, click here to read it.
The main story plot is about how Hole attempts to stop a former World War II veteran who is bent on destruction. Concurrently, it was interspersed with other sub-plots, involving the death of Ellen, his best friend and colleague at work, a wartime love story and Hole’s romantic involvement, that all came together in the end. The sense of suspense was cleverly crafted and built up throughout the story, transporting readers behind and ahead of time and space whilst piecing together the bits and bobs onto a coherent timeline.
Yet the terribly creepy part would be the similarities shared on and off paper. Anti-immigrant sentiments, racist skinheads and neo-Nazi fanatical already sound like a perfect concoction for a complex story and has shown to also have convoluted implications in the aftermath of the massacre.
“They let the enemy build mosques in our midst, let them rob our old folk and mingle blood with our women,” said Sverre Olsen, a shaven-headed man with swastikas on his left forearm and his neo-Nazi party emblem on the right. “It is no more than our duty as Norwegians to protect our race and to eliminate those who fail us.”
Olsen is a fictional character in the book, a self-proclaimed racist charged in court for attacking a Vietnamese immigrant.
Contrast this with Anders Behring Breivik, the gunman who after planting a bomb in Oslo city centre, went on a shooting rampage on an island killing 68 people. He was driven by his aim to wage a war against the islamicization of Europe.
“If they [the cultural Marxists], against all odds, gave up on multiculturalism tomorrow, if they stopped all Muslim immigration and started the deportation of all Muslims, I would forgive them for their past crimes. If they refuse to surrender until 2020, there will be no turning back.”
These statements literally sent a cold shiver down my spine, especially when I grew up in a country that promulgates multiculturalism in diversity (versus assimilation immigrant policies). As such, Singapore’s social fabric is constructed in a very different manner from those in Norway, the latter that up till the 70s still made up of people who were culturally and ethnically homogeneous people. In Nesbo’s words, “the Norwegian self-image before 22 July 2011 was that of a virgin – nature untouched by human hands, a nation unsullied by the ills of society.”
But we could still take a leaf out of the Norwegian tragedy. Singapore has in recent years been struggling with immigration problems and a growing resentment against these incoming new citizens, even featuring as a hot political issue during the May election this year. With about 35% of our population made up of non-residents and permanent residents, it is perhaps time to reflect and think about our own immigrant policies.
As a final note, The Redbreast is not only an intellectually interesting mystery/thriller read, but also voices out the deep social problems in Norway and various Scandinavian countries. Hence, you can easily treat this book as purely fictional or a critical social commentary to help you look deeper and harder about your society, your friends and your neighbors-next-door.