I have every sympathy with anyone facing a ‘celebration’ they do not wish to celebrate, and who climbs out of the (ground floor) bedroom window to escape from it. Like Water For Elephants, the protagonist is an elderly man in an old people’s home where he does not wish to be. His spirit is unbowed, even if his legs aren’t as steady as they used to be. Unlike Water for Elephants, Allan Karlsson is not going to run away to a circus – instead he simply wants to go as far away as possible on a 50-krone note. Thus starts a bizarre sequence of events that, once you skip back through his life (which you do, in suitably digestible chunks), becomes totally in keeping with his extraordinary twists of fortune.
Since Allan is 100 years old, the chunks tracing his life start right back in the 1900s. It’s a life lesson for any teens agonising over their careers after their exams – you can have a successful and interesting career so long as you take the opportunities that come your way. Admittedly, the opportunities that Allan takes are somewhat crazier than most of us would face, but then we were not born in Sweden with a father who had the misfortune to fall out with the Bolsheviks just as the Communists took power in Russia. It’s enough to make anyone avoid politics forever, which is exactly what Allan does. Nevertheless he gets embroiled in one dangerous political situation after another – well, there was a lot going on between 1920 and 1990 in Europe and America… and Russia, Siberia, Korea, China, Japan and Iran, too. Allan manages to get into all the political and revolutionary hotspots I can recall. His adventures managed to sort out a lot of what I, not being a student of political history, failed to understand from the news bulletins when I was younger!
Oh, did I mention the crimes that make the police pursue him all over South Sweden after he does his disappearing act?
The writing is dryly humorous (very Swedish!), full of fun, yet absurd at the same time, with wonderfully rounded and somewhat inept characters. It’s rather like a Swedish Hitchhiker’s Guide to the 20th Century – complete with Don’t Panic written helpfully on the back.
I absolutely loved it – with a slight sadness that I thought it dropped off at the end. But I still give it five stars – since I’d have given it six if I could.
It’s a bizarre, somewhat Nordic noir romp that I thoroughly recommend to adults who like something clean and off the wall with a smattering of wacky history thrown in.
I bought this with real money 20 months ago, and it was worth waiting for!