It has been purely unintentional but in the past couple of months I keep getting my hands on Swedish authors! Not complaining though, as Jonas Jonasson’s first book The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared was another pleasant read.
Jonasson was a journalist before he decided to settle down and write his first novel in the beautiful village of Ponte Tresa, Switzerland. Perhaps it is that background which explains the heavy political, historic and media presence in his novel. As a history student, I really enjoyed the historical references to Mao, Kim Il Jung, President Johnson, President Truman, and even Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
There is a huge sense of internationalism which I really enjoyed. Allan travels from Sweden, to Russia, to North Korea, South Korea, China, Bali, Tibet, Iran, America, and France just to name a few places. He takes on wild professions from physicist, bomb specialist, ambassador, CIA agent and bridge bomber, all which seemingly just arrive on his lap every time. All this with only three years of schooling in his entire life!
Jonasson pokes fun at certain country’s stereotypes, but since he does it with everyone it is accepted and is meant for comedic effect. For example, the Boss, of the secondary characters, wanted to start a dubious gang called Never Again, which he struggles to take off.
“At first, the Boss thought of abandoning the whole idea of Never Again, but Caracas happened to have a Columbian comrade with a flexible conscience and dubious friends, and after one thing and another, Sweden (through Never Again) became the transit country for Eastern Europe for the Colombian narcotics trade.” (53-4)
This quote also highlights how a single small idea, could have drastic affects on history and the world.
The story follows a centenarian named Allan who escapes from an old-folks home. As the story takes off we learn about his past as well, from his childhood to his adult adventures bringing us eventually back to the present. The chapters rotate from past to present and it allows us to learn more about the main character.
I can’t believe I am pointing this out, but because it has such a strong presence in the novel it is difficult to ignore; vodka. There is a huge presence of vodka, and drinking spirits in general. It is vodka and tequila that allows Allan to bond with President Truman.
“As a child, Allan had been taught to be suspicious of people who didn’t have a drink when the opportunity arose.” (135)
Allan stays true to his father’s advice and really has a drink at any and every occasion.
It was really difficult for me not to compare/contrast this book to Jonasson’s second book, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden. Without a doubt the picaresque style remains heavily present in both. Also, the humour and sensational plot line is ever present. The heavy presence of internationalism, politics, and money are undeniable, and even the main characters share that rational, calm and intelligent composure under very stressful circumstance. I did feel for some reason that this book had a couple of tedious parts, especially near the end when Allan and his comrades are lying to the police commissioner about what really happened since Allan has escaped. It got a little too sensational for me at that point.
Verdict: Definitely give this one a read if any of the topics above would interest you. Expect nothing less than the picaresque from our author. Funny, filled with interesting historical figures and very sensational novel. Cleverly written.
Have you read any of Jonasson’s books? Any other great Swedish authors you would recommend?