A friend recently recommended The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared. I didn’t know what the book would be about except that a 100 year-old man, besides climbing out the window and disappearing, didn’t want to celebrate his birthday. I knew this last detail because my friend gave me the title in French, “Le Vieux Qui Ne Voulait Pas Fêter Son Anniversaire,” which translates to “The Old Man Who Didn’t Want To Celebrate His Birthday.”
Since I don’t like to celebrate birthdays myself because they just mean that I’m getting closer to my expiration date (although if I ever make it to 100, I’ll throw one hell of a party), I was instantly interested in reading the book.
What can I tell you without telling you too much? The book is from Swedish author Jonas Jonasson and was first published in 2009 (2012 in the U.S.). Over 6 million copies have been sold after being translated into several languages.
If I had to describe the book in one phrase, it would be: A Swedish Forrest Gump, a lot older and a bit meaner (but not too much). The old Swedish Forrest Gump’s name is Allan and his attitude in life is: “it is what it is.” He makes big life decisions without thinking too much and bases them on whether or not he likes the person making the request.
These big life decisions have major geopolitical consequences on the world, even though Allan does not like to discuss politics (or religion). Allan makes such a brief and good case for this position that he almost had me convinced to stop writing about politics. The book alternates between Allan’s present and past, a past in which he gets to meet several U.S. Presidents, Stalin, Mao, Churchill and many others and through which we get to read about major events in the 20th century. We also get to see that Allan is not the way he is today because he’s old but because he’s always been that way. If Allan is one thing, he is consistent.
It’s a good coincidence that I read this book after finishing Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy. I got to read a lighter version of world events, although not a bit less interesting.
The book is a joy to read, silly and deep, funny and thought-provoking. As I was reading the book I kept wondering why it hasn’t yet been made into a movie. As it turns out, the Swedish movie release was in December 2013. In my opinion, it’s too late for an American version since the actor who would have played this role to perfection was Robin Williams.
When I finished reading the book, I had a smile on my face that reappears every time I think about it. The 100-year-old man may not have wanted to celebrate his birthday, but this book is a celebration of life. Don’t miss it.