«Dette livet eller det neste» is a novel based on a true story about a Norwegian jihadist´s fare to the ongoing Syria war. It is Norwegian-Italian writer Demian Vitanza´s third novel. It follows along some of the same lines as Åsne Seierstad´s "To søstre" published last year. But the main difference is that Vitanza lets the principal character do the narration. Indeed, the author has based the novel on hour long interviews with the real person. The latter is currently in prison in Norway, serving a 8 year sentence after a terrorist conviction.
We meet Tariq Khan, who journeys to Syria to join the terrorist group Islamic state (IS). Prior to his departure, Tariq is just a regular boy in Halden, Østfold. A boy with immigrant background. That is, up until the moment of disenchantment and twisted religious awakenings. However, prior to this he receives many blows and humiliations in the provincial Norwegian town. As he gets older he is suddenly sent to his parent´s country Pakistan. Here he is made to attend a school where harsh treatment, punishments and brutality were the norm. Back in Halden, his adolescence is life on the edge with alcohol, street roaming and partying.
Later, as a young adult he gets entwined in a loose community of jihadists, promising fulfillment and the good life in the heroic Syria war. He is to join his brothers who await him, far away in the Caliphate part of Syria. In Syria, he witnesses the deep antagonism among different rebel groups, their conflicts and fierce competition. Tariq eventually has enough and returns to Norway after being shot in his foot.
As mentioned the novel has more the character of a testimony and it treads a fine line between fact and fiction. As such, it is not always easy to know if the narrator Tariq is incredible or whether the incidents are merely fictitious. And the author himself is candid on this point in the short afterword to the novel.
The book gives a vivid glimpse into how a seemingly ordinary minority youth in a Norwegian small town can get entangled in extremist Islamic political movements operating in Syria. The story is well written and captivating at times and may be helpful in understanding marginal youth of today.
- Sheila Parrera