If you want to know how to make vodka from goat’s milk, or put together an atom bomb ask Allan Karlsson.
Book cover image: The One Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson via Allen & Unwin.
The impossible achievements of Baron Münchhausen may have been largely forgotten by recent generations – after all, he made his debut in 1785. Well over a century later we have Jonas Jonasson’s hero, Allan Karlsson, achieve the impossible as a sprightly 100-year-old surviving adventures as fantastic and impossible as any that Münchhausen recounts.
If you want to know how to make vodka from goat’s milk, or put together an atom bomb ask Allan Karlsson. This is knowledge Jonasson tells us, tongue-in-cheek, that Allan has acquired during his life’s journey, a long journey riddled with coincidences ranging from the plausible to the improbable to the ridiculous. Allan’s life is a hilarious romp with just enough of a touch of realism to make it funny. For the most part the pace is frantic and the book is hard to put down.
A younger Allan manages to help General Franco and President Truman and Sir Winston Churchill. He gets involved politically with Chiang Kai-shek’s wife, Soong Mei-ling, and Mao Tse-tung’s wife, Jiang Qing. Although when asked about his view on politics Allan said that it’s interesting but he ‘meant the opposite’.
Back in Sweden he meets Prime Minister Tage Erlander. In Russia he meets Beria and angers Stalin. In North Korea he encounters Mao Tse-Tung and a young Kim Il-sung – and so Allen wends his way through much of the history of the last 100 years, untroubled and unconcerned about the events playing around him even when, wittingly or unwittingly, he is one of the players.
There are not many people that reach the age of 100 years and are still fit enough to climb out a window and go on to enjoy a set of adventures. Allen's adventures as a centenarian are no less exciting and no less strewn with coincidences than those he enjoyed in his younger years.
An additional attraction of this mildly satirical book comes from its mockery of the establishment, for instance Allan outwits not only the Swedish police but also the KGB.
If the book has a flaw, it is that towards the end Jonasson runs out of steam. The reader gets the impression that the author was reluctant to put his pen down or close the lid of his laptop but sadly in the final chapters the narrative loses some of its pace.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
The One Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared
By Jonas Jonasson
Category: Popular fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: April 2014
Page Extent: 400
Format: Paperback - B format
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level