When I picked up “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson without reading any reviews, I was hoping to learn about the Swedish culture in general. I probably couldn’t have picked a worse book for that. Though to my delight, the book involves quite some inter continental travel but as far as cultural details are concerned, I had to be content with the description of the local liquor(s) of a handful of countries (after all the main character is Swedish and can’t stay away from the Vodka in some form for long).
<spoiler>He even learns to make vodka from goat’s milk.</spoiler>
The main protagonist of the book, Allan Karlsson barely stayed in Sweden. Despite that little letdown, I so want this account of fiction to be true. The book begins in May 2005, on Allan’s 100th birthday. It has two storylines – one post Allan’s 100th birthday and the turn of events that created a havoc for the town, Malmköping in Sweden and sensationalized the local media for almost a month, and the other – traversing Allan’s past – his journey from his childhood to being a centenarian. The chapters switch back and forth between the two timelines and the hilarious developments keep you hooked.
Pre-100th Birthday Piece (Flashback):
If this account had been even 50% true, then Allan would have been by far the most influential person of the 20th century, and by a big margin. Only collectively – Adolf Hitler, Mahatama Gandhi, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Joseph Stalin and the likes would stand a chance. His journey involved – Spain, USA, China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Indonesia, France apart from of course, good old Sweden. I wished somehow he would visit India (my home country) too and be somehow responsible for our freedom – Mahatma Gandhi’s secret teacher or something, but alas, my wishful thinking hardly contracted into reality.
He made very powerful friends and/or enemies – it’s generally hard to stay at one side when Allan was involved. The count of world political leaders he had hung out with is no less than 11*(strictly considering only Presidents and/or Prime Ministers), and he was a pal of sorts with one of the US Presidents. And of course, that meant he was always getting into dangerous situations and by the end of the book, I wondered if the book should be renamed to “The Man Who Couldn’t Be Killed” – a rather enticing title, I would argue. Though I have to admit, this man’s luck never seemed to run out. And every time I wondered – “Now what will Allan do?” and things worked out just conveniently, almost too conveniently.
If a history buff (who has read in detail about the developments in 20th century) reads the books, he/she will either enjoy the read thoroughly or will be aghast at the blatant abuse of literary freedom Jonasson had taken. (I’m not one.)
*<spoiler>Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Tage Erlander, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Mao Tse-tung, Charles de Gaulle, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Francisco Franco</spoiler>
<spoiler>He gives USA the recipe for building a “practical” atomic bomb. He then casually slips in the details of the bomb under the influence of vodka to a Russian physicist later. Ironically, despite coming to dislike communists with experience, he is really the “communist of the communists” as American President Johnson puts it in the book. He is also responsible for nuclear disarmament in the later years, and that wasn’t enough, he unintentionally cast the dice for crumbling of the Soviet Union. Apart from the long list of Presidents and Prime Ministers he had acquainted, he was best friends with Albert Einstein’s fictional half-brother Herbert Einstein. Mao Tse-tung was forever grateful to him for saving his wife from rapist soldiers. The Russian physicist Borisovich owed his success to him and also found an amicable friend in him</spoiler>
Post-100th Birthday Piece:
Well, if there’s one thing the old geezer Allan couldn’t stand, it’s sobriety – never had and never will. That’s solely what had even made him to break free from a high security prison long ago, risking death for the nth time. He wasn’t going to let the old age home’s inexplicable and nonsensical rules get in his way, so he just climbed out of the window, missing his 100th birthday celebration. He soon got mixed up with a “gang” and in no time, he had an arrest warrant on charges of murder or manslaughter on his name. His demeanour has been almost tranquil throughout – a life as eventful as his could harden any softball. He inherited the devil-may-care attitude from his short-lived mother though. The blast of positivity oozing out of him may have been responsible for the instant likability of the character. The developments in the story are both interesting and random, to be honest. Often, the trajectories the story made were too good to be true. The ending was a bit anti-climactic but as long as the elephant is happy, who can complain.
Here’s pdf link in case you’re interested in reading this feel-good book. I’m going to watch the movie now and write the next post about it, stay tuned.