Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Hundred-year-old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

First published 2009, published in English 2012, translation by Rod Bradbury








[The car stopped] Out stepped an officer with a chest full of medals, accompanied by his aide. The aide took the officer’s binoculars out of the boot and then the officer and his aide left the car to seek out a place with a better view of the bay on the other side of which Vladivostok had recently stood. This made it simple for Allan and Herbert to sneak up to the car, seize the officer’s pistol and the aide’s automatic and then make the officer and his aide aware of the fact that they were now in a tricky situation. Or, as Allan said: ‘Gentlemen, would you kindly take your clothes off?’…

The gentlemen would of course be given a couple of sets of inferior black-and-white prisoner’s clothes in exchange, and in any case the nearer they got to Vladivostok – or whatever one should call the cloud of smoke and ruins over there – the warmer it would get. Upon which Allan and Herbert put on the stolen uniforms and left their old prison clothes in a pile on the ground. Allan thought that it would perhaps be safest if he drove the car himself, so Herbert got to be Marshal Meretskov, and Allan his aide.



observations: A LOT of people have bought this book, and many of them loved it and wrote enthusiastic reviews on amazon and, presumably, recommended it to, or bought it for, their friends. The setup is plain: Allan Karlsson escapes from his old people’s home rather than attend his 100th birthday party, and gets involved in a series of adventures with people he happens upon along the way. Roughly alternate chapters follow these goings-on, and tell you the story of his life – a life in which he just happened to be in many of the hotspots of the world during the 20th century, drastically influenced events, and met many world leaders.

I’m a bit helpless before this book: I expected to find it a charming, light, satirical read, but found it long and tiresome. It didn’t entertain me, I didn’t get the point. It certainly didn’t add to my knowledge or understanding of 20th C history. I didn’t see why there was one character called Bosse, and another called the Boss. I found it off-putting that the only significant female character was mostly referred to as The Beauty rather than her name. (Is that OK in Sweden? I thought they were liberal-minded and feminist?)

Sentences like this one:
He groaned when they put him on an upturned wooden chest in one corner and propped his body against the wall
- kept tripping me up. What is an upturned wooden chest? Is ‘him’ different from ‘his body’, and if not, how do you parse this sentence? I can’t visualize it at all.

Were these translation problems?

I would love someone to explain to me what I am missing, and what they liked about it.

The picture is a commemorative stamp of the Soviet Union, of a different Marshal. (We featured a couldn’t-be-more-different Russian stamp for a couldn’t-be-more-different book here.)

5 comments:

  1. Moira - I've read books like that too - books where I just wasn't sure what the fuss was about. I may wait on this one...

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  2. Sorry this book wasn't up to your expectations. It could be because of the translation. It's sometimes difficult to tell.

    It's not really my kind of book, so good on you for keeping going!

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  3. There are plenty of people who would recommend it to both of you! We all have different tastes....

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  4. Hi there, just found your blog through your recent review for Petrona Remembered. I am greatly reassured by your reaction to 100 year old man as I felt the same and was thinking I was the only person who did not rave about it. I found it so contrived when he popped up again and again in the company of major political figures, and I did not find him charming at all. Have you read the Harold Fry book - similar in a way, but that I found agreeable.
    best wishes B

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  5. Hi Blighty - I'm glad I'm not the only one, I was a bit mystified by the universal raves for the book. I haven't read the Harold Fry book - I should look at it, given that we share tastes. Thanks for coming by.

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