So I decided to read a light-hearted, comical book and ended up picking this one by Jonas Jonasson – The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. The unconventional title of the book and a very catchy cover had kept this book in my to-be-read list since quite a while. It turned out to be decently fine – not way too below my expectations, but not quite meeting them either.
The entire narration revolves around our centenarian protagonist’s present and past, alternatively. The story starts with the day of the 100th birthday of Allan Karlsson (our protagonist) in an old people’s home in his country – Sweden. Our rather adventurous hero, as one finds him to be via the chapters based on his past, is bored at the old people’s home and wants to get back to what he does – having adventures (though, unknowingly; all he really wants is freedom, and more importantly, vodka). And so, his displeasure with the old people’s home makes him escape from there to somewhere he doesn’t even know of. Things tend to work out for him eventually, though, after his escape. And there begins his new adventure. He meets new people (and animals) who become a part of his adventure. It’s made more of an adventure with the involvement of mafia and police. With alternate chapters based on Allan’s past and present, Jonas Jonasson has tried to introduce to us who Allan really is, gradually. Allan turns out to be an enthusiast of explosives (who had once burnt down his own house) and also an absolute abhorrent of politics and religious ideologies. Ironically enough, in the past, he has been shown to be involved with some of the most influential political personalities of the respective times. Francisco Franco, Harry Truman, Mao Tse-tung, Stalin – he has met them all and has helped them change the course of history. As much real the author has tried to make the entire setting look here, it has still come off as quite farcical at a lot of points (both in the past section as well as the present section).
Talking of the type of character Karlsson is, he’s shown to be the kind that minds his own business and is comical is his own way, which makes him quite lovable. For instance, when Allan met a black man for the first time, what he had to say was – “it turned out that there was no difference other than the colour of their skin, except of course that they spoke weird languages, but the whites did that too.” His nonchalance about anything controversial is one of the nicest things about him. That, to an extent, influences his outlook on many other matters and also preaches to not be stressed about unimportant issues. One never finds Allan stressing a lot over how he’ll manage his way out of some trouble; he just gets out of it. However, as much fun it is initially, exploring who Allan is, it gets tiring after a point and for that, it’s the lengthy descriptions that are to be blamed. The narration is way too intricate at a lot of points, where it’s not even required. I, for one, lost my interest midway through the book and couldn’t complete it in one continuous pick.
Had it not been for my being compulsive about finishing the book that I start, I don’t think I’d have been able to complete this book. The narration started off just fine, but didn’t quite maintain the fluidity. The comical tone of the book is not as comical as one expects, but sharp enough at a good, few points. All in all, this is not a book that I’ll highly recommend, but if you want to read something light once in a while, and not necessarily in one go, this book is a decent pick.
The food mentioned in this book is quite the mainstream one. While our protagonist has been almost all around the world, there are only a handful of dishes mentioned here that one might have not heard of.
There’s roast elk, porridge, hot-dog, syrupy bread with salami, beef – all of which is available in Sweden.
In Spain, Allan Karlsson has tacos, enchiladas, corn tortillas, salsa along with tequila.
In North Korea, Karlsson is served a chili and garlic-flavoured pork dish with rice for dinner, and steamed vegetables and dried fruit for breakfast.
It’s in Russia where some of the dishes indigenous of that place are had by Karlsson.
Two popular types of dumplings of Russia are Pelmeni and Pierogi. Pelmeni is prepared with flour-dough, water, and sometimes eggs with minced meat, fish or mushrooms for the filling. Pierogi, on the other hand, is usually served as a dessert or an appetizer with mashed potatoes, fried onions, cabbage, sauerkraut, meat, mushrooms, spinach or cheese for the filling.
There’s also the popular sour, beetroot soup, Borscht, of Ukraine. It has a vast number of variations. There are a lot of non-beetroot variations, which instead involve rye, cabbages, sorrel etc. It typically combines the sautéed vegetables with meat or bone stock.
Blini is another popular Russian dish that is mentioned. Blini is typically a type of pancake made from buckwheat flour. Its variations involve different additions to it – grapes, apples, raisins usually.
Overall, the book has the mention of a lot of food, all of which tickles the reader’s appetite pretty well! 😀