When people say don’t judge a book by its cover, they didn’t quite see this book coming. The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared is every bit as intriguing as the title itself. Its unputdownable till the end and you need to be statutorily warned that it would cause sudden outbursts of laughter.
Allan Karlsson has been living in an old people’s home in a nondescript town in the south east of Sweden and gets a sudden urge to AWOL from his own 100th birthday party. He climbs out of the window in a pair of slippers which he calls his ‘pee-slippers’ because ‘men of an advanced age rarely pee farther than their shoes’ and soon finds himself standing in front of the bus station. And being an unusual man this Allan since “he was on the run from his own birthday party, another unusual thing for a hundred-year-old, not least because even being one hundred is pretty rare”, he decided to buy tickets to ‘somewhere’ where fifty crowns will take him. And he gets on the bus with something more than what he had fled the old age home with. What follows is the most fantastical tale of spontaneous companionship and guileless adventures. And as the adventure progresses, the unwrapping of the past happens with healthy doses of geo-political sarcasm. Sounds like a strange mix and it is a strange one – but also something that is so refreshing that you wouldn’t just ever want it to end.
Jonas Jonasson, the author of the book had been a journalist for many years before embarking on this book and it so clearly shows on the way he has handled the political context of Allan’s life. Its almost like a recap of all the events that has shaped and reshaped our modern history. From the Spanish Revolution to the end of WWII with the explosion of the Atom Bomb and subsequently of the whole world’s obsession with nuclear weapons, Jonas provides an incredulous view of world politics through Allan’s youthful misadventures. Jonas’ stoic language with comic undertones adds humor to even the deadliest events of our modern political history.
From 1943 on, extremely strict security restrictions came into force at Los Alamos. The scientists had been given a secret mission by President Roosevelt to create a big bomb….
……The scientists pulled their hair and asked Allan for more coffee. The military people scratched their heads and asked Allan for more coffee. The military people and the scientists all despaired of finding a solution and asked Allan for more coffee.
And in the midst of all this Jonas has placed the central character of Allan, an apolitical atheist who had been sterilised by the state as part of their sterilisation program for ‘biologically inferior individuals’ and also because ‘there was probably too much of his father in him for the state to allow further reproduction of the Karlsson genes’ as Allan Sr himself had taken a bullet between his eyes for having claimed a little piece of land in what was then Lenin’s Russia and proudly called it The Real Russia. The highly pragmatic Allan however courses through his years, mostly unperturbed by the crumbling world around, till he reaches this ripe age of one hundred years. And these events segue into Allan’s present day adventure where he ends up being chased by a pack of criminals after multiple murders and a bag full of cash and the police at his tail.
In today’s literary world of glorified misery, this book is one of those scant pieces of beautifully written prose which bring forth the uninhibited goodness that perseveres all around us but eludes us so often because we have chosen to not mind it. The 2015 edition of the book opens with the quote (much as a foreword) “Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be“, borrowed deftly from Oscar Wilde’s letter when we was in prison. This quote beautifully puts into perspective the life of this hundred-year-old man and also the greater truth which we run away from by striving to make things the way we want it to be and ending up in an untreatable state of angst.
I will be reviewing Jonas’ second book (The Girl Who saved the King of Sweden) soon, once I have finished reading it. Till then I will leave you with one of the many paragraphs from the book which will irrefutably light up your face even during your darkest hours.
‘Could I have a word please, sir?’
‘Go ahead’, said the vice president in a slurred voice.
‘Preferably in private, sir.’
‘I’ll be damned if you don’t look just like Humphrey Bogart!…’
‘Sir….,’ said the increasingly troubled security man.
‘Yes, what the hell do you want?’ the vice president hissed.
‘Sir, its about President Roosevelt.’
‘What about that old goat?’ The vice president guffawed.
‘He’s dead, sir.’……
…..The news of President Roosevelt’s sudden demise meant that the vice president had to conclude the pleasant dinner with Allan and fly immediately to Washington. Allan was left behind in the restaurant to argue with the head waiter about the bill. In the end, the head waiter accepted Allan’s argument that the future President of the United States was probably reasonably creditworthy and that, in any case, the head waiter now knew his address.
My rating: 4.5/5
Order your copy here: The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared