Two Norwegian teenage sisters of Somalian decent were lured from Norway to Syria by ISIS on an October morning in 2013. Åsane Seierstad, the author of the international bestseller The Bookseller of Kabul, has written a powerful and gripping true account of a family torn apart.
Nineteen-year-old Ayan Juma and her sixteen-year-old sister Leila left their family home in Oslo, dragged into ISIS’s web of horror. Later that day they sent an email to their parents: ‘Peace, God’s mercy and blessings upon you, Mum and Dad … Please do not be cross with us…’
In her new book, “Two Sisters”, Seierstad is writing their story in intricate, compelling detail. The sisters had been planning their secret journey for months. Their desperate father Sadiq set off after them, tracking them across ISIS territory determined to find them.
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In her exploration of why the two sisters abandoned their home for a distant war, Seierstad weaves a complex picture of their lives as young Norwegians. Ayan was a brilliant pupil at one of the elite high schools in Oslo but had disputes with her mother about clothes that were too revealing. Seierstad teases out the sense of alienation that a distinct and different heritage can produce in a homogeneous society. What had gotten into these girls – so educated and so adored?
Their father risks his own life to bring his daughters bac, while his wife Sara begins to question their life in Norway. How could their children have been so radicalized without their knowledge?
The oldest sister Ayan in particular was drawn into a radical milieu as she reached an age where she was trusted to go out on her own. At weekends she was inspired by a charismatic but radical teacher giving Quaran classes and drawn into the world of IslamNet, a society of young, Salafist Muslims in Oslo.
Åsne Seierstad has with the complete support of the Juma family followed the story from the beginning. It’s a tale that crosses from Sadiq and Sara’s original home in Somalia, to their council estate in Oslo. The sisters had only got as far as Sweden when the family first called police for help. Leila was still a minor and it should have been possible to intercept them there. However, the father’s desperate pleas went unanswered. After the sisters’ slow passage through Turkey, and passing the border to Syria, they faced the shocking consequences of their decision.
This is Seierstad’s second investigation into radicalization. “One of Us” (2015) told the story of Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011, most of them teenage members of a left-wing political youth organization. Åsne Seierstad was born in 1970 and studied Russian, Spanish and the History of Philosophy at Oslo University. An internationally bestselling author, she has also received numerous awards for her journalism. She has worked as a war correspondent across the world, including Russia, China, Iraq and Afghanistan. Her second book, The Bookseller of Kabul, has sold over two million copies.
Two Sisters From Norway, reviewed by Tor Kjolberg