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Book Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Who Climbed Out Through the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

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A fic­tional book which fol­lows the adven­tures and misadventures of its pro­tag­o­nist, The Hundred-Year-Old Who Climbed Out Through the Win­dow and Dis­ap­peared is a hilar­i­ous and enjoyable romp through the 20th Cen­tury, one that doesn’t take itself seriously. So far this book, by Jonas Jonas­son, has been trans­lated into 29 lan­guages and has been a bestseller in many countries.

Allan Karlsson’s health is good, so good that to his dis­may he is fac­ing the hor­rors of putting up appear­ances for this 100th birth­day. Leav­ing the mayor, the press, his friends and the bane of his exis­tence – the nurse – behind, he escapes moments before the big cel­e­bra­tion. When a young man asks Allan to keep an eye on his suit­case at the train sta­tion, the cen­te­nar­ian steals it and gets the ball rolling on a month-long chase involv­ing the police, the under­world, and a hand­ful of accomplices.

Par­al­lel to the escape, Allan’s long life is revealed to the reader. As it turns out, Allan is not just an old man with a suit­case, but one of the most influ­en­tial per­sons to ever walk the face of the earth in the 20th Cen­tury. Alas, through the com­edy of life, Allan is only remem­bered for his age.

There’s a focus on lam­poon­ing the espi­onage genre and par­odying the mystery/chase gen­res as well. The impor­tant peo­ple Allan has met and influ­enced (Tru­man, Churchill, Mao, Lenin and more) are marked by their dark sides rather than being the pil­lars of world affairs we have built them up to be. Allan’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Man­hat­tan Project doesn’t get bypassed either.

I got the feel­ing that The Hundred-Year-Old Who Climbed Out Through the Window was very much influ­enced from For­rest Gump and/or Woody Allen’s Zelig. Allan Karls­son is the eter­nal opti­mist — half way through the book it is clear that noth­ing will hap­pen to him, but it is how he gets out of trou­ble and his unbe­liev­able luck and improb­a­ble coin­ci­dences which makes the book so enter­tain­ing and endear­ing.

Though the char­ac­ters are not as well defined as they could be, I still enjoyed this book very much. Dis­ney bought the rights to the movie yet this 2010 publication has still not been trans­lated into Eng­lish. With the huge influx of Scan­di­na­vian lit­er­a­ture recently, it is amaz­ing to me that this hasn’t hap­pened yet. It’s won­der­ful to be able to read in more than one language.

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