I finished this book last week just before heading out for the holiday weekend, and I have been wracking my brain for something brilliant to add to my post from the 1st. Usually, when I finish a book, I feel differently about it than I did partway through, or I’ve had some revelation either for or against it. I’ve waited eagerly for five days, and nothing has come to me.
The only thing I know for certain that I didn’t a week ago is that I’m going to give this book to my brother when I see him at the end of the month. I think he’ll enjoy both Jonasson’s subtle humor and the fact that more than half the book is political historical fiction. I’m guessing he already knows more about the actual events related in the novel than I did (for example! I learned how North and South Korea were created! Ditto on East and West Germany! Also, how President Roosevelt died!). He’s always been the kind of political junkie who bothers to find out how current events are connected in the past (wow – just typing that made me simultaneously yawn and feel guilty for my own ignorance).
Also, the protagonist, 100-year-old Allan Karlsson, reminds me of my father’s father. Even though he lived until I was twenty, I never felt like I understood him very well. He was quiet and patient and diligent (three words that have only ever been applied to my person by those who don’t know me well). He’s in the background of so many memories from my childhood – meticulously tending his lawn, making sure the badminton net was set up when we came to visit, caring for the dog – and in all those years, I can’t think of a single time when he was unpleasant. He never raised his voice; instead, when he was annoyed, he would throw us a wink and with a secret smile, simply disappear for the next few hours.
My brother adored him. I suspect he loved that there was one person in our family he could spend time with who wouldn’t demand conversation. When the two of them were together, they could work in silence with perfect contentment. After reading The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, I can actually comprehend the benefit of that. I also better understand the value of being the type of person who relaxes in the face antagonism, who shrugs off the decrees of others and goes right on doing what needs to be done anyway.
Of course, that will never be me. I will forever take after my stubborn, loud-mouthed, arrives everywhere 30 minutes early grandfather. I’m much more like the people who come into Karlsson’s life and are constantly teased for their brash idiocy. Fortunately, the world needs all sorts of people in order to tell its stories…
Now, on a somewhat unrelated note, I had already decided I wanted to share the (rather long) passage below, and I’m still going to even though it doesn’t have anything to do with what I’ve ended up discussing. It’s a lovely example of Jonasson’s work and a better indicator than I am for whether you’ll enjoy his novel as much as I have.
To provide a bit of context, this story is told, not by Allan, but by a new acquaintance of his over dinner with friends. Bosse is sharing the history behind his possession of several pallets worth of “damaged” Bibles, and how he had ended up reading one of the copies from cover to cover in order to find a single misprint:
Then one evening he reached the last chapter, and then the last page, the last verse.
And there it was! That unforgivable and unfathomable misprint that had caused the owner of the books to order them to be pulped.
Now Bosse handed a copy to each of them sitting round the table, and they thumbed through to the very last verse, and one by one burst out laughing.
Bosse was happy enough to find the misprint. He had no interest in finding out how it got there. He had satisfied his curiosity, and in the process had read his first book since his schooldays, and even got a bit religious while he was at it. Not that Bosse allowed God to have any opinion about Bellringer Farm’s business enterprise, nor did he allow the Lord to be present when he filed his tax return, but – in other respects – Bosse now placed his life in the hands of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And surely none of them would worry about the fact that he set up his stall at markets on Saturdays and sold bibles with a tiny misprint in them? (‘Only ninety-nine crowns each! Jesus! What a bargain!’)
But if Bosse had cared, and if, against all odds, he had managed to get to the bottom of it, then after what he had told his friends, he would have continued:
A typesetter in a Rotterdam suburb had been through a personal crisis. Several years earlier, he had been recruited by Jehovah’s Witnesses but they had thrown him out when he discovered, and questioned rather too loudly, the fact that the congregation had predicted the return of Jesus on no less than fourteen occasions between 1799 and 1980 – and sensationally managed to get it wrong all fourteen times.
Upon which, the typesetter had joined the Pentecostal Church; he liked their teachings about the Last Judgment, he could embrace the idea of God’s final victory over evil, the return of Jesus (without their actually naming a date) and how most of the people from the typesetter’s childhood, including his own father, would burn in hell.
But this new congregation sent him packing too. A whole month’s collections had gone astray while in the care of the typesetter. He had sworn by all that was holy that the disappearance had nothing to do with him. Besides, shouldn’t Christians forgive? And what choice did he have when his car broke down and he needed a new one to keep his job?
As bitter as bile, the typesetter started the layout for that day’s jobs, which ironically happened to consist of printing two thousand bibles! And besides, it was an order from Sweden where as far as the typesetter knew, his father still lived after having abandoned his family when the typesetter was six years old.
With tears in his eyes, the typesetter set the text of chapter upon chapter. When he came to the very last chapter – the Book of Revelation – he just lost it. How could Jesus ever want to come back to Earth? Here where Evil had once and for all conquered Good, so what was the point of anything? And the Bible… It was just a joke!
So it came about that the typesetter with the shattered nerves made a little addition to the very last verse in the very last chapter in the Swedish bible that was just about to be printed. The typesetter didn’t remember much of his father’s tongue, but he could at least recall a nursery rhyme that was well suited in the context. Thus the bible’s last two verses, plus the typesetter’s extra verse, were printed as:
20. He who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! 21. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. 22. And they all lived happily ever after. (p 198)
For more about Jonas Jonasson, his site is here.