100 Year Old Man (Review)

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Jonas Jonasson, 2009 (Eng. transl., 2012)
400 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
August, 2014

In this whimsical, even farcical novel, Allan Karlsson crawls out the window of the Old Folks Home and lands in a bed of pansies. He's wearing bedroom slippers, and he's on the run—all to avoid his 100th birthday party.

The book follows Allan, one serendipitous adventure at a time. With luck and guile, he manages to evade his captors, inevitably landing on his feet—though his feet, by now, have left the bedroom slippers for a pair of shoes...shoes belonging to one of the men Allan has killed (sort of killed).

That's just the front story. The back story, alternating with the present, is Allan's 100 year life, starting with his childhood when he becomes an expert at demolition. In other words, Allan knows how to blow things up, a skill that comes in handy given an entire world bent on violence and destruction.

Everyone wants to make use of Allan's expertise; thus, he finds himself at critical junctures of global history—major wars and revolutions. He meets or befriends luminaries from Generalissimo Franco in the 1930s to Lyndon Johnson in the 60s. He's at Los Alamos for the development of the A-Bomb, in Iran during the Shah's regime, and in France during the 1968 uprisings.

Seen through this lens, history becomes capricious, a comedy of errors in which events emerge out of happenstance rather the ponderous decisions of great men. If you think this has been done before, say in Forest Gump, you would be right. And if you find the shtick a little thick at times, right again.

Nevertheless, The 100-Year-Old Man is great fun: a quick romp through 20th-century history, together with a delightful contemporary cast—a band of quirky characters who join Allan on his centennial lark. So, yes, read this one and chuckle.

See our Reading Guide for The 100-Year-Old Man.

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