Fast-moving and relentlessly sunny, the novel quickly develops into a romp that takes in all the major events of the 20th century. Like Forrest Gump, Allan is an innocent with the knack of being in the right place at the right time. He has also had a hand in everything from the Russian revolution to Reagan's Star Wars … Like Allan, the plot is pleasingly nimble and the book's endearing charm offers a happy alternative to the more familiar Nordic noir.
...a story that is loaded with absurdities from beginning to end … [Allan is] neither immoral nor amoral, but he is certainly detached, and he is absolutely apolitical. In the past, he insults Stalin (luckily, the translator faints), learns Russian in a gulag and walks back to Sweden from China, barely surviving execution in Iran along the way. In the present, he meets a strange and delightful collection of friends and enemies. Coincidence and absurdity are at the core of this silly and wonderful novel. Looking back, it seems there are no hilarious, roll-on-the-floor-laughing scenes. They will just keep readers amused almost nonstop, and that’s a feat few writers achieve.
The latest Swedish blockbuster, translated by Rod Bradbury, features a centenarian named Allan who, tired of living in a nursing home, escapes out the window … It’s a cute premise, but the right-place-right-time concept obviously isn’t original (see Forrest Gump and Zelig). Moreover, it’s easy to predict what will happen to Allan, since his life follows the course of a 20th-century history textbook. From 1943 to 1945, he’s employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. A few years later, he finds himself in a Russian gulag. Where was the action in 1968? Why, Paris, of course. And Allan makes it there in time to witness the uprisings that nearly shut down the city. By then, the shtick has worn a little thin.
...a very entertaining adventure revolving around some of the major international events of the 20th century, many involving espionage and awesome mayhem … The pursuit chapters are balanced with chronicles of Allan's chaotic life, each of them highly implausible but oddly possible … Jonasson's book might be best enjoyed across the sofa from another reader, over the course of several days, with an ongoing discussion about the Vietnam War demonstrations, Stalin's moustache, Mao Tse-tung's third wife, or the ineptitude of local authorities.
The intricately plotted saga of Allan Karlsson begins when he escapes his retirement home on his 100th birthday by climbing out his bedroom window. After stealing a young punk’s money-filled suitcase, he embarks on a wild adventure, and through a combination of wits, luck, and circumstance, ends up on the lam from both a smalltime criminal syndicate and the police. Jonasson moves deftly through Karlsson’s life—from present to past and back again—recounting the fugitive centenarian’s career as a demolitions expert and the myriad critical junctures of history, including the Spanish Civil War and the Manhattan Project.