The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (M) by Jonas Jonasson is a book that has it all — a cast of quirky amoral good guys, bad guys who are super-bad (and get what they deserve) yet still have a touch of humanity, a romp through history featuring some of the 20th century’s powerful leaders, and, most charmingly, an intelligent and charismatic elephant.
Allan Karlsson, the hero of our tale, faces his 100th birthday in a nursing home whose strictures cast its residents into infantile roles. The mayor is slated to arrive for his birthday party and Allan has no interest in being on display and a strong interest in having a drink of vodka whenever he likes. When one is turning 100 there is no point in putting things off. Wearing his slippers he, as the title suggests, climbs out of his window and disappears. With limited cash, he makes his way to the bus station and purchases a ticket for as far away as he can afford. While at the station he is requested by a scary young thug to watch his suitcase and, due perhaps to his extreme age, he shrugs, takes the suitcase and again disappears. To Allan’s amazement the suitcase contains a huge amount of money, and so the chase begins. Allan, as has been the pattern of his life, quickly gathers about him a gang of like-minded adventurers who are ready to share in his journey.
As Allan dodges criminals and an incompetent police force, we are taken through his very exciting 100 years to date. From an unfortunate childhood, Allan becomes an explosives expert, and this knowledge propels him, Forrest Gump-like through the 20th century. Allan has no interest in politics nor is his particularly greedy, rather he uses his skills as a means to survive and is happy enough to share information if he can be helpful. For these reasons both the US and the USSR get the atom bomb and so begins the Cold War. Who else does Allan meet and influence? Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman, Mao Tse-Tung, de Gaulle, and perhaps, most endearingly, a petulant young Kim Jong Il. Allan has a wonderful calmness due perhaps to both his extreme old age and a lifetime of extraordinary events.
This is a book I’ll be recommending for a while. I don’t normally divide books up by season, but this is a perfect summer read – light, quirky, fun, absurd.
Another novel of interest might be The Widower’s Tale (M) by Julia Glass. “Seventy-year-old Percy Darling is settling happily into retirement: reading novels, watching old movies, and swimming naked in his pond. But his routines are disrupted when he is persuaded to let a locally beloved preschool take over his barn. As Percy sees his rural refuge overrun by children, parents, and teachers, he must reexamine the solitary life he has made in the three decades since the sudden death of his wife. With equal parts affection and humor, Julia Glass spins a captivating tale about a man who can no longer remain aloof from his community, his two grown daughters, or—to his great shock—the precarious joy of falling in love.”