Åsne Seierstad (the Norwegian letter "Å" is pronounced like the "o" in Eng. "or") is a Norwegian journalist and writer who at 32 is rapidly - at least in the eyes of Scandinavian TV-viewers and newspaper readers - picking up the fallen (and perhaps somewhat stained) mantle of Oriana Fallaci as the foremost female war correspondent of our time.
Fearless and angelic
An angelic-looking blond woman, Åsne Seierstad has been fearlessly standing on the front lines in Chechnya, Serbia, Afghanistan and most recently in Iraq. She became known as the only Scandinavian who dared to report live from Kabul at the height of the Afghanistan war. During the Iraq war she has been the sole Scandinavian reporter on the spot in Baghdad, reporting on TV, radio and printed media several times a day during the entire conflict. While other Scandinavian journalists preferred to report their second-hand stories of the Iraq war from safe places like Kuwait and Jordan, Åsne Seierstad gave lively first-hand accounts of the situation in the Iraqi capital to viewers in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, to the ominous-sounding accompaniment of bomb explosions and gunfire.
In Russia, by chance
Seierstad slid into her journalistic career more or less by chance. As a student of Russian in Moscow in the early '90s she had to pose as a journalist in order to be able to interview a Russian member of parliament about the shaky political situation. This led to her appointment as a "free-lance-correspondent" in Russia for a small Norwegian daily. The title meant in practice that she had to work on the side as an interpreter to foreign journalists to make ends meet.
Gunfire in Kabul and Baghdad
Her real break-through on a pan-Scandinavian scale came when the Swedish media discovered that Åsne was the only available Scandinavian reporter in Kabul during the height of the fighting. The Swedes had considered Kabul a far too dangerous place and had decided against risking their own people, just to cover a faraway war between quaint foreigners. They jumped at the chance to get first-hand reports, instead of relying on international channels, and contracted Åsne Seierstad on a free-lance basis. Åsne became an instant success with her vivid radio reports and newspaper articles - the only types of reporting possible on such a short notice. Her reporting from Baghdad was better prepared - now she was contracted beforehand by dozens of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish TV and radio channels and newspapers.
Åsne reported from Baghdad in Norwegian, a language which is easily understandable to Danes and Swedes as well. Still, to the Swedish and Danish listeners the cheerful-sounding tonality of the Norwegian language (see Swedish pronunciation), together with the sight of an angel-like frail young Nordic woman, made a stark contrast to the gravity of the content of her reports. Paradoxically, this incongruence between the grim message and the angelic mediator made an even greater impact on most non-Norwegian viewers. Åsne Seierstad became overnight the number one celebrity, of most categories, in most of Scandinavia.
Her success has brought on some macho-ist rumblings from male journalists, who have had trouble accepting that they have been severely beaten by "an outsider and a woman", on their own turf. At long last Seierstad is making some money - an estimated 2 million Nowegian Crowns for her reporting from Iraq - which also irks the machos. It doesn't take a strategic genius to see that the battle-hardened Åsne Seierstad, however frail her looks may be, will have no trouble taking them on.
In addition to her journalistic exploits, Åsne Seierstad has written several prize-winning books. After the Afghanistan war she stayed on in Kabul for five months, living with an Afghan family. She wrote a sociologically colored account of her impressions of family life and values in Kabul, "Bokhandleren i Kabul" (= The bookseller in Kabul), which won the 2002 prize of the Norwegian booksellers association and has sold some 140 000 copies all over Scandinavia.