BookBrowse Reviews The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

by Jonas Jonasson

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Paperback:
    Sep 2012, 400 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

Buy This Book

About this Book



A spunky geriatric protagonist proves old age can be just as colorful as youth

I'll admit it: try as I may to be open-minded about the aging process, I am still a vain American who attempts to moisturize away wrinkles and scrupulously pluck every strand of gray hair. So I was intrigued when I heard about a novel that stars a spunky geriatric protagonist. For the past few years this debut novel from Swedish author Jonas Jonasson has been a European bestseller, and now it has finally been translated from Swedish and is available to English readers. Any seasoned reader will assume that this work is riding off the laurels of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, but this novel offers an entirely different Sweden from the dark, crime-ridden one we have come to associate with Nordic novels.

The story opens on the 100th birthday of Allan Karlsson, an elder care resident with nerves of steel and a penchant for vodka. Allan refuses to be defined by his age alone, so he decides to walk away from the care home just minutes before his big birthday. His escape sets the town - and eventually all of Sweden - into an uproar. Not necessarily looking for adventure, but still managing to attract a great deal of it, Allan becomes involved with some criminals, to comedic effect, and meets several memorable characters (including an elephant) who join him on his escapades across Europe.

This modern-day story of Allan's centennial adventure is interspersed with chapters that tell the story of his long life, often tilting into farce and satire as Allan calmly and somewhat blithely influences the course of the twentieth century. In Los Alamos he becomes entangled with the Manhattan Project, and there are appearances by Stalin, President Truman, Kim Il Sung (the first leader of North Korea), the Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco, as well as a great many other characters who are less memorable not merely because they are not historical figures, but also because they don't play essential roles that prove important in the scope of Allan's life.

While at times the novel does feel a little baggy, a little too big for the relatively simple, one-life narrative it is, it also offers the rarity of treating old age with grace, humor, and joy. Allan is a role model for those who fear sinking into disuse and decrepitude, and the novel's value is in exploring old age as a time that is as lively and colorful as youth.

Jonasson's sense of humor relies on the subtle effects of understatement, repetition, and timing. His light tone and Allan's blasé attitude are reassuring that, despite the great amount of dictators, explosions, and wars that are folded into the narrative, our main character will survive safely and without serious incident. What compels a reader to continue, therefore, is the desire to untangle the humorous absurdities of Allan's lifespan and to confront some of the twentieth century's most grave moments with the gentle sarcasm of a world-weary protagonist who has truly seen it all. After visiting the newly inaugurated President Truman, who wishes to speak to him about Chinese communism (yes—like I said, this character gets around!), Allan merely sighs and grumbles that he "should have guessed this was about politics."

This book is a sort of beach read for history fans, as it offers a playful, silly narrative that uses the postmodern literary technique of allowing historical figures to come alive as characters. To fully enjoy it, readers need to be relaxed enough to suspend disbelief and revel in the carefree ways of old age. This is perhaps the hallmark of the whole story: a life that is full and well-lived, and a character who continues that vivacious life regardless of his age. Similarly, the novel also asks for the same state of mind of readers: relax, enjoy.

This review is from the September 19, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Ghachar Ghochar
    by Vivek Shanbhag
    The Bengaluru (aka Bangalore) that has dominated economic news headlines over the past decade is the...
  • Book Jacket: Caught in the Revolution
    Caught in the Revolution
    by Helen Rappaport
    So taken were BookBrowse's First Impression reviewers by the inside look at the start of the Russian...
  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Most of us who turn to any subject we love remember some morning or evening hour when...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -