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The 100-Year-Old Man (etc.) by Jonas Jonasson

The 100-Year-Old Man
Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

Jonas Jonasson (Harper Perennial 2012, Trade paperback) 384 pages $16.99 cover price

What a shame it is that Sir Alec Guinness died at the ripe young age of 86 back in the year 2000. Had he lived, he would be almost the right age to play Allan Karlsson, the title character of this charming, whimsical novel. It would make a lovely movie.

Specifically, I couldn't help but think of that great old Ealing Studios comedy, The Lavender Hill Mob. The 100-Year-Old-Man has a similar trail of bodies and theft, yet the characters remain lovable. One even feels cheery and is given to cheering when an elephant sits on a low-rent gunsel, crushing him in a pile of dung.

'When a what sits on a what where?', you ask. Don't concern yourself with the details as the Swedish author Jonasson flips chapters back and forth between the 2005 present (when Allan makes a break for it through the nursing home window rather than endure his 100th birthday party) and scenes from Allan's life.

And oh my what a life Allan has led. Like Woody Allen's Zelig, or Winston Groom's Forrest Gump, Allan is seemingly everywhere. A great fan of blowing things up with dynamite, he blows up bridges during the Spanish Civil War, which eventually takes him to Los Alamos where he reveals the solution to building the first atomic bomb, which allows him to get royally drunk with Harry Truman, who send him to the Chinese Revolution to blow up more bridges, and so on.

It's always difficult to judge a writing style in a translated work. However, The 100-Year-Old-Man is presented in simple language which frames the thoroughly outlandish plot in an appropriately dry, even border-line childlike tone. It works an effect equal to that of an adult fairy tale. At the very least, you are bound to look at your own aged relatives with an increased respect and curiosity. They have great stories to tell too, you know. They're just waiting to be asked.

Be seeing you.


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