Allan interrupted the two brothers by saying that he had been out and about in the world and if there was one thing he had learned it was that the very biggest and apparently most impossible conflicts on earth were based on the dialogue: “You are stupid, no, it’s you who are stupid, no, it’s you who are stupid.” The solution, said Allan, was often to down a bottle of vodka together and then look ahead.
The title of this book has interested me since it was first published two years ago, but it’s taken me until now to get around to reading it. I’m delighted that I finally did.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is an absurd but utterly charming book by Jonas Jonasson. It made me smile from beginning to end.
Just before his birthday party is due to start, 100-year-old Allan Karlsson decides that he’s had enough of the retirement home he’s living in with all of its rules and regulations. He climbs out of his bedroom window and heads towards the nearest bus station. On the spur of the moment, he decides to steal a suitcase that was entrusted to him to watch, and that’s where our story begins.
In alternating chapters, we learn about Allan’s life up until now. Over the years, he has, amongst many other things:
- Saved the life of General Franco from a bomb he planted himself
- Got drunk on tequila with Harry S. Truman on the night Roosevelt died
- Saved the wife of Chairman Mao
- Saved the life of Winston Churchill
- Asked Stalin if he’d ever considered shaving off his moustache
- Comforted a ten-year-old Kim Jong Il when he learned about the death of his ‘Uncle’ Stalin
- Became lifelong friends with Albert Einstein’s less-intelligent brother, Herbert
- Given Nixon advice on how to use corruption to get ahead politically (which he possibly paid too much heed to)
Despite his extraordinary life, Allan himself is a very ordinary person. All he wants for himself is a bed to sleep in, food to eat, something to do during the day and vodka to drink. His simple desires are what make him so appealing. He has no interest in politics and his only concerns in relation to the people he comes into contact with are how they treat him. For example, the reason he dislikes Stalin is because he shouted at him. Having said that, while he’s innocent in his desires, he’s by no means unintelligent. He also knows how to be crafty and cunning when he needs to be.
Getting such an overview of the major events in the twentieth century through the eyes of Allan Karlsson was an interesting experience and in a way, puts them into perspective. Allan takes no sides, he finds friends of every religion and political affiliation and there is no prejudice in him. He’s baffled by the anti-Semitic and racist people he encounters in his youth, and his reaction on first meeting a black person is disappointment that they’re so ordinary. There isn’t a hint of greed in him and he accepts everything that comes into his life gratefully. He’s endearing, and while he’s naive in some respects, he’s more Odd Thomas than Forrest Gump.
In the present-day, we follow Allan and the suitcase as, on the run, he picks up a motley crew of people that can help him. Well, three people and an elephant called Sonya. On his trail is the original owner of the suitcase and a police officer. Again, this is treated lightly, with near-miss after near-miss, and some great backstory for each of the ‘villains’ of the tale.
Overall, this a light and charming romp, which I really enjoyed reading and would thoroughly recommend.