Author: Jonas Jonasson
Translator: Rod Bradbury
Publisher: Hesperus Nova
Publishing Date: 2014
Number of Pages: 387
Genre: Humor/Comic Fiction
Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But as it turns out, Allan will not…
Escaping (in his slippers) through his bedroom window, into the flowerbed, Allan makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century.
When I picked up Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared in the book stands, I barely had an inkling as to what it was about although it was recommended by my officemates. In order to satisfy my curiosity, I bought the book; the book’s title immediately caught my attention, not only because of its length but also because of the interesting premise hemmed into it. Before I started choosing books critically, book titles used to be one of the primary criteria for my purchasing a book.
“Imagine that, death was just like being asleep. Would he have time to think before it was all over? And would he have time to think that he had thought it? But wait, how much do you have to think before you have finished thinking?” ~ Jonas Jonasson, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
“You’re never too old for an adventure,” as inscribed in the book’s cover.
Originally written in Swedish, the novel’s lengthy title literally and (quite ironically) succinctly summarizes what the novel is all about. The centrifugal point of the story is Allan Karlsson, who, on his 100th birthday, escaped from the old people’s home he was staying in. His birthday was supposed to be a big event as prominent people were in attendance. But he didn’t want the party so he “climbed out the window”. An adventure of a lifetime involving criminals, cash and incompetent police, ensued. But as the plot thickens, Allan’s earlier life comes to the fore, and one learns he is no stranger to adventure.
The premise of the narrative is the first one that got me (other than the title, of course). To be honest, it is an absurdity that is wrapped in tragicomedy. To some, it might even be implausible, or impossible. Honestly, I didn’t mind this bit of absurdity because it made me smile all throughout. The anecdotes, and the funny scenes hemmed into this tapestry are what makes the story work for me. The delight one feels while reading a book is what gives a book a value.
On the surface, the comedy and the entertainment is what makes the narrative work. However, if one is to dig deeper, beyond the slapstick comedy and the absurdities, one can make out some universal realities that ranges from political to social. The general mood and atmosphere of the narrative is light. However, in spite of this seemingly light atmosphere that the book possesses, the narrative is doused with dark humor, and, to some extent, satire. To be able to appreciate and understand the book, one must think out of the box.
“It had been exciting, the entire journey, but nothing lasts forever, except possibly general stupidity.” ~ Jonas Jonasson, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Basically, the story is a hundred-year world history encapsulated in one aged man’s life story. Moreover, one can surmise how much of humanities’ history is forged by a handful of men in power, especially dictators and dictatorship in general, involved in the biggest arena of them all – politics. Interestingly, Allan was apolitical but numerous coincidences made him cross paths with numerous political figures such as US Presidents Truman, Johnson, Nixon; Chinese Premier Mao Tse-Tung; North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il; and Russian leaders Stalin, and Brezhnev.
The novel did extensively deal on history and politics. However, there was something that was obscured as well. There were undertones of vitality and life that was carefully embedded into the narrative; not everyone gets the chance to reach a hundred years of age. Allan’s story showed that one can achieve a lot in a lifetime, if only one is to take chances. However, what I found appalling is the reality that most elderly people experience – being sent to home for the aged. This is especially true in Western nations, regardless of one’s accomplishments or station in life. On the other hand, Jonasson reminded all of us that one is never too old to experience adventure.
The story jumps from the present to the past in an unhurried fashion. However, if there is one thing I lament is how blasé Allan reacts to all the things that were happening around him. It is quite unbelievable that he was unfazed by being in the courts of such powerful figures. This draws the narrative towards absurdity. Nevertheless, it is this absurdity that one must enjoy in the story. Besides, Allan is a wonderful character who possesses both artifice and humor. The writing was generally above par, although some of the humor went dry. I guess it got literally lost in translation.
“Revenge is like politics, one thing always leads to another until bad has become worse, and worse has become worst.” ~ Jonas Jonasson, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
While reading the book, I can’t help but smile, a lot. This is one of the books that you don’t want to read in public because people might frown upon your continuous snickering. It is an enjoyable read, in spite of its dark and heavy humor. The satire and the vivid historical elements were simply entertaining, and even educational. It is retelling world history (and mankind in general) in layman’s term – less tragic, more comedy, more satirical. It is a book that one can either critically analyze or just take it for what it is. For me, I’ll go for the latter. Nothing compares to an entertaining book that makes you laugh endlessly because of its absurdities and exaggerations.
P.S. The book reminded me of my grandfather who always has a lot of stories to tell. Grandparents are always that way.
Recommended for readers who have want to appreciate world history, readers who like books about adventures, readers who want to be entertained, readers who like satirical works, and readers who want a light but meaningful read.
Not recommended for readers who have tendencies to critically and overly analyze, and readers who are too serious.
About the Author
Pär-Ola Jonas Jonasson was born Per Ola Jonasson on July 6, 1961 in Växjö, Sweden.
Jonasson graduated from the University of Gothenburg, studying Swedish and Spanish. His first job post-college was as a journalist for Smålandsposten, a local paper in his hometown, and later on, for Expressen, a Swedish evening tabloid. After separating from Expressen, he established his own media company, OTW in 1996. Due to exhaustion and major health concerns, he later sold the company.
While living in Switzerland, Jonasson begun writing his first work, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. It was published in Sweden in 2009. Due to its popularity, the English version of the book was published in July 12, 2012. Its sequel, The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year Old Man was published in 2018. Jonasson’s other work, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden was published in 2013.
Jonasson currently resides on the Swedish island of Gotland with his son.