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Lisa Ann Cockrel
Faith and Writing in Norway
On July 22, 2011, Alf Walgermo was away from his desk, where he works as the arts and culture editor for Vårt Land—a Christian daily headquartered in Oslo, Norway—when a car bomb detonated 100 meters away. The explosion killed 8 people and injured 209. Walgermo returned later to find his office in disarray, shards of glass impaled in books. "It was a surreal scene," he says. "If I had been there, I would have been lucky to escape with scratches."
Many more were not lucky. Two hours after the explosion, Anders Breivik, the lone wolf who planted the bomb, donned a police uniform and opened fire at a nearby youth camp, killing another 69 and injuring 110. The violence shocked the small country most reliably in the spotlight in connection with the Nobel Peace Prize. One study found that 1 in 4 Norwegians knew someone affected by the massacre.
Two years after the attacks—almost to the day—Alf and I sat at a café just inside the main gate to Vigeland Park, Oslo's analogue to Central Park. Cyclists and joggers power through flocks of meandering tourists. Walgermo points out the occasional thirtysomething man in skinny jeans pushing a stroller, a relatively new species of Scandinavian urban male dubbed "latte dads." We sip our own coffees and consume chocolate croissants while talking about the publishing phenomenon that is Karl Ove Knausgård's My Struggle and the local arts scene.
Along with his work for Vårt Land, Walgermo has served as president of the Norwegian Critics' Association, the country's 350-member strong alliance of art, music, theater, and literary critics. But contra the stereotypes about those who labor at criticism, Alf is no frustrated artist. His own creative output includes several books, not to mention music with his band Minor Yours. He recently wrapped up a stint as a Statens kunstnerstipend fellow that allowed him to take a sabbatical from the newspaper ...