YOU read it right. A title almost as long as a short story should get you in the mood for one of the funniest, most zany and laugh-out-loud clever books I’ve read in a long time.
Swedish author Jonas Jonas son has, in our baby boomer-dominated times, in which the use of the word "ageing" has virtually been outlawed, created a whole new, sexy genre about this unpopular condition.
Not only does the centenarian, Allan Karlsson, manage to hoist his creaking knees over the window sill, disappear from his old-age home — and mayoral birthday party — but he does so with a cheery heart and nimble brain.
He is wearing his urine-splattered slippers and thus, totally inadequately attired, he makes his getaway from a dreary existence to which he cannot become accustomed after an extraordinary life. Before he even boards a bus, he has inadvertently stolen a suitcase containing a fortune of money that belongs to a criminal gang. The thug asked the dear old man to keep an eye on it while he went to the loo.
Actually, the young man put it less elegantly: "I need to take a dump." Karlsson replied, as Jonasson writes, "that although he was old and decrepit, his eyesight was still in good repair and it did not sound like too arduous a task".
But the bus arrives while the youngster is still occupied and Karlsson makes his second unexpected move of the day. He gaps it with the help of a conscientious and unsuspecting bus driver.
Naturally, the gang hunts him across Sweden as the very old man hurries across it, putting miles between him and the old-age home’s grumpy director.
Along the way, he gathers new friends like the proverbial rolling stone. They include societal misfits, outcasts, underdogs and even an elephant.
Age has given him the remarkable ability not to prejudge anybody and to listen to their stories with an open mind combined with a deadpan approach.
The police, a bunch of incompetent nitwits, are also after him and the gang. Not to mention the crime boss who masterminded the initial heist.
As the days pass, Karlsson’s name is writ huge in banner headlines in the Swedish press. And still he and his motley crew are not caught.
The story of the hugely eventful 100 years of his life runs alongside his escape. As a younger man, he worked with, enjoyed dining with and sometimes ran away from world leaders, including Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Charles de Gaulle.
Much of their interaction, apart from starting or stopping wars, and dealing with the atomic bomb, involved drinking copious amounts of vodka. Well, Karlsson drank the vodka.
He climbed mountains, crossed deserts, plumbed the ocean depths in a submarine, was thrown into jail and languished in the Siberian snows.
The plot is absurd and ridiculous and that’s exactly how the author planned it for it is farce, satire and black comedy all rolled into one.
It has more twists and turns than a James Bond movie. Speaking of which, there have been scores of offers to make it into a film, one of which has reportedly been accepted.
Not bad going for a debut book by a 50-something Swede.
In the past couple of years, it has sold more than 3-million copies in Europe but only recently crossed the English Channel to the UK. It has taken even longer to make it to the US and SA.
It is delicious that a middle-aged Swedish writer has taken the West by storm with a decidedly unglamorous hero, complete with creaking joints, who sums up the major conflicts of the past two centuries with simple brilliance.
Karlsson reminds me of the Peter Sellers character, the gardener named Chance in the film Being There, or Forrest Gump in the movie of the same name.
Careful where you read this book for you will chortle, even guffaw. Fellow travellers who spot its title will think you are nuts.
About the author
PAR-OLA JONAS JONASSON Jonasson is a Swedish journalist and writer. After studying Swedish and Spanish at the University of Gothenburg, Jonasson worked as a journalist for the Vaxjo newspaper, Smalandsposten, and for the Swedish evening tabloid, Expressen, where he remained until 1994. In 1996, he founded a successful media company, OTW, which grew to 100 employees thanks to his working seven days a week.
By the end of 2003, he was suffering from back pain and severe stress. Despite medical care, in 2005, he was forced to completely change his lifestyle after 20 years in media. He sold his business and moved to a remote part of the south coast of Sweden with his cat, Molotov. After living on his own for a couple of years, he married and moved to Ticino, Switzerland, where he concentrated on the book he had long wished to complete, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. It was published in Sweden in 2009 and rights have been sold for the book’s translation into more than 30 languages. Since 2010, Jonasson has been living with his son on the Swedish island of Gotland.
He is now working on his second novel. “It’s about a South African woman who lives in Soweto and turns the world upside down. It’s very funny.”