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ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Swedish humour provides a quirky, fun read

If you’re lucky enough to turn 100, you’ll likely have a birthday party organized by staff at a care home. It’s pretty certain there won’t be many friends or family alive. So is it really much of a celebration?

Not according to Allan Karlsson, the hero of a hilarious book by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Just hours before the media is set to arrive at his care home, Karlsson decides to skip his own party. The book is aptly titled The 100-year-old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared. After tottering to the local bus station, Karlsson happens upon a suitcase stuffed with money, not surprisingly owned by a criminal gang. Luckily, the suitcase has wheels and Karlsson is able to shuffle off with it. What follows is the gut-busting and wacky tale of an old man fleeing across Sweden with a criminal organization and police in hot pursuit.

Karlsson, a sort of  Swedish Forrest Gump, is affable and apolitical, and has a similarly unassuming philosophy of life: whatever will be, will be. And what will be is awfully strange. On the lam, Karlsson is accompanied by a ragtag crew that includes a hotdog vendor, a petty thief and an elephant. Sweden is swept up by the story of the missing centenarian: How could an old man be caught up in such drama? They’ve forgotten that before settling into retirement homes, most people have busy and active lives. In fact, Karlsson’s predicament pales in comparison to the rest of his life. When the main character of a book is 100 years old, there’s plenty of opportunity for back story. In 1915, Karlsson quit school while in Grade three. But with an intellectually curious mind he taught himself to become an explosives expert. Unfortunately, part of this hands-on experience involved blowing up his own house.

After a four-year stint in an insane asylum, Karlsson set off to discover the world. He finds many chances to rely on his knowledge of explosives. Karlsson always seems to end up in the vicinity of historical characters – first by almost blowing up a bridge carrying General Franco. Over the course of his life, through a string of lucky escapades and escapes, Karlsson befriends and has dinner with a large number of world leaders, including Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. President Nixon only offers him a cup of coffee.

The 100-year-old-man is Swedish humour at its best – quirky, ridiculous, far-fetched but entirely compelling. Thanks to the reader who suggested this book. Happy reading!

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.

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