This is a very funny novel. It’s fast paced and easy to read yet the story twists and turns and has more bumps than a knotted up little old man with a crookedy cane.
On the day of his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson leaves the nursing home where he lives and disappears into the local small town. At the bus station he acquires a suitcase with (unbeknownst to him) millions of kroner/Crowns (value about .20 US $ each) in it and takes the bus as far as he can. At that bus stop he makes a friend and the two of them dispose of the intellectually dim gang member who comes after the money. The two head on down the road and meet a man who drives them away from a hot dog stand (his hot dog stand) in an older Mercedes. So then there were three.
The three guys, one old, one middle and one fairly young, stop at a farm house seeking a room and dinner. There they meet a youngish lass with a sharp tongue – (Does this sound like a joke? – LOL and omg. )
Meanwhile, back at the nursing home, the staff as well as the police are on the look-out for the truant. And the other gang members are looking for their guy and their suitcase of money.
Interspersed in the main story of this chase is the tale of Allan’s life from 1905 to the present (2005). He seems to go everywhere. That’s the way his life has been so it continues to just take him along. As a result he’s never been terribly stable and walking away from situations is just a part of life as he knows it. This background part is largely true in terms of the big events – (Truman did meet the Shah at Tehran) and there are lots of annotatable details including names, dates, places, things, etc. As Grandpa says in the Dedication – “Those what only says what is the truth, they’re not worth listening to.”
There’s a lot of eating and food and drink in the book. I appreciate that – (just a quirk, I guess) but it certainly does seem as though no matter where Allan finds himself he makes sure he has food and vodka. Fwiw, a 500- Crown note (Kroner) is worth about $100 US.
The themes or morals of the story are:
“Things are what they are and whatever will be will be.”
“Never try to outdrink a Swede unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian.” – p. 136
“Politics was about watching where you put your feet.” – p. 185
and just a little funny:
“… that it was Stalin’s wish that Nikita Sergeyevich himself should be responsible for making sure that what had happened, hadn’t happened.” p. 248
Alan visits the sites of many, many world events between the Spanish Civil War (where he met Franco) and blew up a few bridges although he professes no formal allegiance with nations or parties. He travels through Los Alamos to help out with the bomb making. He gets over to China supposedly to help the Nationalists but he really doesn’t care for politics. And then he makes it through the Himalayas just in time for the end of WWII and the Tehran meeting between Churchill and the Shah. (This is only half-way through the book – we travel fast here.
There are a lot of odd non-US cars mentioned along the way, too. This is the third time I’ve come across the Humber in a month! The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes, The Book of Evidence by John Banville and now here.
A photo of the Humber Pullman (I have no idea if they made limos like the one our hero used).
Okay, but by the time we get to Allan’s meeting with Stalin I’m getting a bit bored – I skim his part a bit. But the story-line picks right back up again in the adventure trying to get out of the prison camp and escape to elsewhere – North Korea in this case, where there is a war going on.
Jonasson has a way of involving the reader in the story where it’s at – then that becomes really enjoyable and the switch is back to the alternating story – either to Allan’s life or back to the 2005 part. Then it’s time to get hooked into that part and voila – back to where you left off last time.