Joie De Vivre, if you had to define this book in one word, or rather phrase it would be Joie De Vivre. This book is a riot! and I don’t give 5-stars easily, but this book gets it. you can’t write about it without giving things away (a few spoilers below) but the protagonist’s philosophy to life is sonething to think about in the midst of frequent laugh out loud moments.
Now before I go any further, I need to point out that many people would find the book absurd in many of it’s details. The sloppy police work, oft-corny humour, a general sense of chaos. If this book had been a movie, it would have been the pink panther. Jonasson obviously didn’t plan for realism; he wants to spin a yarn, captivate the audience, as is obvious from his dedication to his grandfather, reproduced below:
No one was better at captivating an audience than Grandpa, when he sat on his favourite bench telling stories, leaning on his walking stick and chewing tobacco.
“But Grandpa … Is that really true?” we grandchildren would ask, wide-eyed.
“Those who only say what is the truth, they’re not worth listening to”, Grandpa replied.
This book is dedicated to him.
That the author is a journalist in real life and has to, as a matter of professional integrity, say what is the truth, it is no wonder that the book is such a flight of fancy.
Now to get to the book, Alan Karlsson, the protagonist, has just turned 100 in a small-town Sweden nursing home and is possibly bored out of his mind. Alan has lived his entire life on the spur of the moment so to speak, and he decides to climb out of the window and go his own way, thank you very much. His dislike for Alice the nursing home director and general absence of Vodka in his controlled life are the driving factors of the decision. The events of his remarkable life unfold as the story then progresses through two timelines, one from Alan’s birth to the point he ends up in the nursing home, and one from his apparent disappearance and the consequent nationwide police hunt and uproar.
Alan has a few loves that motivate all his decisions and shape his life: a love of explosives, a love of vodka, an appreciation of good food, complete religious and political neutrality and a general lets-do-something-because-it-seems-interesting approach to things. That in the process he meets almost every major political figure of the 20th century, travels all over the world, including crossing the himalayas on foot, gets involved in every major political movement globally, has a hand in both the US and soviet nuclear programs, learns various languages, blows up people and things with frightening regularity and success, sets vlodivostock on fire, steals from cutthroat gangs, befriends a runaway circus elephant, imbibes copious amounts of vodka while always looking for his next hot meal is pretty much what the book is about. What becomes remarkably clear through the course of the narrative is his disparate sense of morality which while mostly shocking is also at times thought provoking.
Some parts of the book could have been better, notably the explanation to the district attorney but overall it is a very well executed absurdity. I started and finished the book on a 10hr flight and had people staring at me as I laughed out loud, apparently to myself. Must read!
This book is also April 2013 TwitBookClub selection