“It all starts on the 100th birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century.”
A few days ago, I finished The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Minutes before a birthday party held in honor of his 100th birthday, the main character, Allan Karlsson, climbs out the window of his room at the nursing home. He walks over to the train station, and with no plans in his mind, he simply keeps on moving, meeting some interesting characters along the way.
Allan has an incredibly carefree, go-with-the-flow spirit. I was fascinated to read about his many adventures, both current and past. The story was quirky, funny, with bits of history speckled throughout. Allan is a 100-year-old world traveler, after all – that’s a lot of history! Allan is completely apolitical, yet somehow ends up smack in the middle of a number of major events of the 20th century. He approached his visits to foreign countries, and his conversations with world leaders, with a refreshing sort of naïveté. His complete apathy toward political matters gives the reader a strangely fresh, open-minded perspective. I found myself laughing out loud at fictional scenes such as:
“Mao Tse-tung, Kim Il Sung, and Marshal Meretskov discussed the matter [of Allan’s vacation] among themselves. Cuba popped up as a possibility, and the gentlemen concluded that you could hardly imagine somewhere more capitalist.”
I feel the character of Allan taps into a hope and fear that many of us have likely mulled over. Is it possible to experience a high quality of life as we live our final years? Will we be able to live according to our own whims and desires, or will we be stuck obeying a scheduled life in a nursing home? Do people in nursing homes ever think about escaping?
“Allan told the man that his name was Allan, that he was exactly one hundred years old and spry for his age, so spry in fact that he was on the run from the old age home.”
From that sentence on, I found myself cheering Allan as he ignored and broke the rules to follow his own desires. Good for him, going on the run like that. And what pluck, sneaking out the window only minutes before a birthday bash that included the mayor and the media! I was charmed by the great happiness Allan found through simple things such as good food and plenty of spirits: “Allan felt so comprehensively satisfied that he began to be almost afraid of dying.”
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is an entertaining read that is quick without feeling mindless. I can see myself reading it again in the future.