60 pages 2 hours read

Jonas Jonasson, Transl. Rod Bradbury

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

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2009

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Summary and Study Guide


The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is the first novel by former Swedish journalist Jonas Jonasson. An action-adventure story with elements of comedy and historical fiction, the novel won the Swedish Booksellers Award in 2010; the German Pioneer Prize and the Danish Audiobook Award in 2011; and the Prix Escapades, an exclusive French literary competition, in 2012. Both critics and readers worldwide embraced the book. Within 12 years, it sold five million copies, spawned a motion picture, and compelled Jonasson to write a sequel, The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man.

In this first novel, centenarian Allan Karlsson—a pensioner with a fondness for vodka (and known in his nursing home for trying to smuggle it in—avoids his 100th birthday party by sneaking out through his window. After successfully escaping, he embarks on an adventure filled with remarkable travels, relationships, and accomplishments. The humorous tale alternates between his current and past adventures. The characters occasionally use foul language, and some of them frequently use alcohol. The story includes vivid descriptions of bombs, explosions, shootings, and their results—and many characters die by violent or natural means.

Plot Summary

Allan Karlsson climbs out the window of his room at a nursing home to avoid his 100th birthday party. By the time administrators discover his escape, he’s long gone. After a young man named Bolt orders Allan to watch a gray suitcase while he uses the restroom, Allan boards a bus, taking the suitcase with him and discovers that it holds around $5 million. Allan spends the night with Julius, a 70-year-old petty thief. Confronted by Bolt, the elderly men lock him in a freezer, accidentally killing him. They dispose of Bolt’s body at an industrial site in a shipping container. There, they meet Benny, a hotdog stand owner who has a silver Mercedes and offers to be their driver. The three end up at the secluded farm of Gunilla, whom Benny nicknames “The Beauty.”

Allan’s backstory is interspersed with the present. In the first historical segment (1905-1929), at age 10, Allan goes to work in a dynamite factory. His father acquires a Fabergé egg in Russia and sends it to Allan’s mother in Sweden, where a merchant purchases it for a pittance. Allan accidentally blows up the merchant who cheated his mother, and the state commits Allan to a psychiatric hospital, where the physician seeks to cure him by castrating him.

In the next historical section (1929-1939), after the psychiatric hospital has released Allan, he goes to work as a demolition expert for a cannon factory. He befriends a Spaniard named Estabán, who convinces him to travel to Spain. Estabán dies soon after volunteering with the communists in the Spanish Civil War. Allan takes his place, detonating explosives throughout Spain. Impulsively, he spares the life of an officer he learns is dictator Francisco Franco. Franco proclaims Allan a hero and offers him safe transport back to Sweden.

In the present, Benny, who is trained as a veterinarian, learns that The Beauty rescued an escaped circus elephant, Sonya, with an infected foot. The Beauty is glad to help the men until she sees a newspaper article telling the incomplete, incorrect story of Allan and the criminals chasing him. Allan’s group offers to share the money with her. Realizing that she can’t remain on the farm, she purchases a school bus, which the group retrofits to accommodate Sonya.

During 1939-1945, Allan goes from Spain to the US rather than Sweden. Immigration officials take him into custody—but forget about him for four years, recalling him only when the government seeks explosives experts. They send him to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he receives security clearance and makes coffee for Robert Oppenheimer and other physicists in the nuclear program. Allan explains how to make the bomb work to Oppenheimer just as Harry Truman arrives to check the program’s progress. Truman gratefully takes Allan with him, and they enjoy a drunken meal, during which Truman receives notice that Franklin Roosevelt has died.

In the present, Bolt’s criminal colleague, Bucket, tracks Allan’s group to the farm as they’re about to depart. Allan tricks Bucket into falling into a huge pile of elephant dung, and Sonya sits on him. Allan’s crew places Bucket’s flattened body beneath the back seat of his Mustang, planning to drive the car away and burn it. However, Bucket’s brother, a petty thief, steals the car and sells it, unaware that his brother’s body is in it.

During 1945-1947, President Truman sends Allan to China to destroy bridges to stop the communist army’s advance. The 20 soldiers accompanying Allan are corrupt and immoral. They capture Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong, boasting of their intention to mistreat and barter her. Allan frees her and helps her escape. He treks across Asia to Europe, crossing the Himalayan Mountains with three Iranians. Iranian soldiers kill his fellow travelers because they’re communists and arrest him.

In the present, Pike Gerdin—Bolt and Bucket’s boss—races to the farm just in time to see Allan’s group leaving in the school bus. Close behind him is Inspector Aronsson, a police officer, who tries to decipher what happened. Pike chases down the bus, blocking the road without realizing that the elephant within the bus makes it difficult to stop. The bus demolishes his car.

During 1947-48, Allan is taken to a Tehran police station. Thinking he will likely be executed, Allan agrees to help the police chief assassinate Winston Churchill, who is visiting Tehran. Allan tricks the police chief into detonating a secret bomb, leading to the destruction of the police station. Allan escapes to the Swedish embassy. Swedish officials are reluctant to help, so he calls Truman, who calls the Swedish Prime Minister and clears Allan’s return to Sweden. Back in his homeland, Allan meets with the director of the nuclear program but decides not to help build an atomic bomb. A stranger approaches Allan as he sits outside.

In the present, the police issue warrants for the arrests of Allan, Julius, Benny, and The Beauty. After rescuing Pike from the accident site, the group travels to the home of Benny’s estranged brother, Bosse, and offers him $300,000 US to hide out there. Pike enters Bosse’s house, carrying his pistol. Pike and Bosse, long-time friends, recognize and embrace one another.

During 1948-1953. the stranger who approached Allan is Yury Popov, the head of Russia’s nuclear program. The Soviets take Allan to Russia, intending to pay him to explain how to make an atomic bomb. In a vodka-induced conversation, Allan reveals to Yury the key secrets of making the bomb. During a dinner with Stalin, Allan becomes disillusioned and decides not to help the Russians. The Soviets sentence Allan to 30 years in a gulag. On the way to Vladivostok, Allan meets Herbert Einstein (the half-brother of Albert Einstein), whom the Russians mistakenly kidnapped. After five years, Allan decides to escape because he misses vodka. Allan and Herbert start a fire in the container ships in the Vladivostok harbor. A confluence of unexpected events results in the gulag being engulfed in flames. Commandeering a Russian marshal’s clothes and car, Allan makes his way to North Korea and eventually into the presence of North Korean Premier Kim Il Sung, still pretending to be a Russian marshal. Kim recognizes Allan and Herbert as frauds—but with Kim is Mao Zedong, who wants to reward Allan for saving his wife. Mao sends Allan and Herbert to Bali.

In Bali (1953-1968), Allan spends most of his time drinking on the beach. Herbert marries a woman he renames Amanda, who uses Herbert’s money from Mao to become Bali’s governor. When the Indonesian president appoints Amanda ambassador to Paris, she takes Allan along as her interpreter. He recognizes that an aide to the French interior minister is a Russian spy, which puts Allan in the good graces of US President Lyndon Johnson, who is visiting France. When Johnson learns that Allan knows the head of the Russian nuclear program, he asks Allan to turn Yury into a spy for the US.

In the present, Allan’s group learns that they’re wanted by the police. They confer and decide not to turn themselves in. The inspector figures out where Allan’s group is and shows up one morning. He has a cordial meeting with Allan, who serves him coffee and pastries. The inspector receives a call from the prosecutor, who tells him that the bodies of Bolt and Bucket have been located, one in Djibouti and one in Latvia. The inspector tells the prosecutor that the third suspected corpse, Pike, is alive in front of him. The prosecutor announces that all charges will be dropped and says he’s coming to see the group the next morning. With an evening to concoct an explanation for their actions, the group presents a wildly improbable story to Prosecutor Ranelid, who must accept it, having already declared them all innocent. Preferring to avoid journalists, who might uncover their story’s inconsistencies, the group decides to leave Sweden and return to Bali.

In the past, (1968-1982) Allan returns to Moscow and persuades Yury to provide information about the Russian nuclear program. However, the two men decide not to provide correct information, as doing so might inflame nuclear tensions. For 13 years, Yury and Allan meet and make up what they want the US to know about Russia’s nuclear weapons, eventually resulting in nuclear disarmament treaties.

When Allan returns to Sweden (1982-2005), he learns that he’s a pensioner. He lives outside his hometown of Flen, raising chickens. He adopts a stray cat, whom he names Molotov. He and the cat age quietly together until a fox kills Molotov. Allan declares war on the fox, setting a dynamite trap that is too close to where he keeps his other explosives. The resulting explosion kills the fox and chickens, destroys Allan’s house, and leaves him sitting in a snowdrift. As a result, he moves into a nursing home, where his life is completely regulated.

The present narrative continues as Herbert Einstein’s widow, Amanda, now 84, welcomes Allan and his troupe to Bali. Each member of the cadre finds fulfillment on the island. Allan and Amanda marry, and Allan discovers—to his amazement—that the Swedish physician botched his castration. A representative of the Indonesian government approaches Allan and asks for his help in creating a nuclear weapons program. Allan agrees.