If your friend asks you ‘what’s the last good fiction you have read’? And if you reply “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared”, he would definitely be irked and would ask you to not tell the story-line, but only the name of the novel. Alas, Swedish journalist-turned-author Jonas Jonasson’s novel has this mouthful of a title, which also turns out to be one of the most deliciously funny modern fictions. The novel concocts an adventure of massive proportions; one that couldn’t fathom by just reading the story structure. Scandinavian fictions are most famous for their detectives dwelling into the dark nature of humans. Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, etc were some of the eminent Nordic authors, who have arrested our attention with grim noir thrillers. But, Jonas Jonasson’s work is just travels in the opposite direction of all the crime thrillers.
“The 100 Year Old Man……”would provide you an astounding experience, particularly if you have soft spots for 20th century history (although it’s unburdened with the stringent political ideologies). Published in 2009, the novel became one of the most read books in Sweden and went on to get translated in 35 languages (sold at least 8 million copies, worldwide). The book begins on Allan Emmanuel Karlsson’s 100th birthday. He is residing in a old folks’ home and the mayor & local media are about to gather for the celebration. Allan, who hates everything about the old folks’ home, just decides climb out the window in his pajamas and bathroom slippers, to make a one last adventure. Allan finds his way to bus depot and decided to get off, where his little amount of money would take him. Allan’s everlasting fortune brings a burly gang member nicknamed ‘Bolt’ with a big suitcase. Bolt asks the genial old man to look over his suitcase, while he goes into the toilet.
Allan has another sparkling idea and takes the suitcase with him on the bus. Bolt is furious and frightened because he has just a suitcase full of money to a 100 year old. It would be futile to explain what happens from then on because Allan’s adventure takes him down to strange paths, where pure luck helps him to meet cordial, but lonely humans. His gang of misfits includes an aging petty thief, a hot-dog stand proprietor, a spirited woman and her pet — an elephant named ‘Sonya’. As these people try to evade from the gang members and police, the story jumps back to Allan’s past, where he seems to have embroiled in vital dark moments of the 20th century history.
The novel is written with the typical Nordic sense of dry humor. Author Jonasson wonderfully amalgamates the fictional character Allan into the key history-changing events. Allan meets Franco, Mao, De Gaulle, Harry Truman, Stalin, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Kim Il-sung, and Churchill; He was traversed the mountains of Himalayas; knows how to make vodka from goat’s milk; escaped on a riverboat with Mao’s wife; involved in the creation of atomic bomb; worked with CIA as well as entered into the inner sanctum of KGB. All these unbelievable adventures are attractively laced with irony and understatement. If you simply take the adventures of “Forrest Gump” and multiply it by 100 or more times, you could be a little close in understanding the Allan’s journeys. The centenarian’s non-political and non-religious character traits are perfectly sketched. A little misleading note would have just changed Allan to stupid and cliche.
Jonasson awesomely walks the tightrope in paradoying the great historical events & mysteries we read as serious subjects. More than ridiculing a particular political ideology or religious faith, through Allan’s adventure, Jonasson inspires us to take a deeper & different look into the history. The author’s wry humor is impressively laced in explaining a key event from a distinct point of view. Behind all this dark, dry humor, a rich contemplative layer lies that makes us to see how stupid it is to wreak havoc on our fellow human beings, in the name of politics and religion. I think no other contemporary novelist has ridiculed cold-war or the political stance of super-power nations in the manner Jonasson does. It is hard to just quote one favorite funny line in “100 Year Old” because the book is riddled with many. The episodic nature of Allan’s journey, of course, doesn’t lend a page-turning experience, but the brutally honest and shameless self-serving nature of our protagonist mostly pushes us through.
(The novel was adapted into a movie in 2013 but the charming, quirky energy of the book just got lost in the script)
“The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” is one of the most incredibly creative satirical work on the shortcomings and foibles of modern human beings.