The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Written by Jonas Jonasson
Review by Kathryn Johnson

Swedish noir may be a hot literary commodity, but apparently Swedish writers are also capable of producing humor on a grand scale. Jonas Jonasson’s re-imagination of history and its most familiar players, seen through the recalled experiences of a comfy-slippered centenarian who runs away from a retirement home with a suitcase full of money, is over-the-top hilarious. As protagonist Allan Karlsson is chased across Sweden by the criminal gang who want their cash back, he shares with the reader a tour-de-force view of his life. It seems the explosives expert with a fondness for vodka has been personally involved in just about every momentous historical event during his lifetime, à la Forrest Gump. As a child he befriends Carl Faberge (“Uncle Carl”) in Russia. He drops in on Lenin during the Bolshevik Revolution. He flees to Paris and then to Rome after trouble with the law. (He tends to blow things up.) In Spain he saves the life of Francisco Franco. Later he contributes to the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. He meets Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, de Gaulle, Lyndon Johnson, Einstein…and the list goes on and on, as he’s involved in one adventure after another.

The page-turner has made Jonasson a European publishing phenom, after his novel was repeatedly turned down by American and British publishers. It’s now been sold to 30 countries, and seems to have universal appeal. Entertaining, absolutely. A means of learning Western history? Not so much. But don’t we just need a good laugh sometimes? Highly recommended.