Jonasson’s novel begins, as the title suggests, with Allan Karlsson climbing out the window of his nursing home on his 100th birthday and disappearing. Allan makes his way to the bus stop nearby and on a whim steals the suitcase of a man waiting alongside him. From there, Allan is on the lamb, meeting an assortment of oddball characters, while being chased by the man (and some of his associates) whose luggage he had pilfered. At the same time, the narrator recounts Allan’s life as a sort of tumbleweed, drifting through some of the most important moments in 20th century history. The centenarian rubs elbows with Harry Truman, Chairman Mao, Stalin, Churchill, Kim Il-Sung, General Franco and many more well-known figures over the course of his long life. Not unlike Forrest Gump, this character, an explosives expert by training who cares little for politics, finds himself at the center of many watershed moments, and yet he has little interest in the moment or its ramifications.
The book, as you might imagine, is highly contrived. The effect is very funny, no doubt; however, I didn’t love it. I think I’m actually more in the 3 out of 5 stars camp. There’s a reason that the Roadrunner cartoons and the Grimm’s fairy tales are fairly short, and I think this book just didn’t need the length that it had at ~400 pages. The last 100 pages, which effectively served as the conclusion, could have been ripped out and I probably would have been just as happy with the reading experience. Actually, probably a little happier because I thought the dénouement was a bit of a slog. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for something that’s very light, a little silly, and historical (in the sense that Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire is historical) then look no further.