This wonderful novel, which pays homage to the genre of the absurd, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared is a terrific romp through time and place, featuring the most unflappable protagonist I’ve yet encountered.
The story starts on the 100th birthday of the irrepressible Allan Karlsson. Trapped in a nursing home, destined to live out his remaining years, gazing out a window, tolerating the orders of the head nurse, denying his spirit of adventure and desire for a tipple, Allan turns his back on celebrations designed in his honour and, as the title suggests, climbs out the window of his room and, as far as the authorities can make out, vanishes.
Only, Allan hasn’t disappeared. Instead, unwittingly, he embarks on an amazing journey where he encounters people both good and dangerous, an elephant, a suitcase full of cash, bamboozled police and an attorney with poor judgement. Accused of being a murderer, kidnapper, thief and other terrible crimes, Allan is a wanted man. Remaining blissfully unaware as he travels across country, collecting people as one might stamps and finding hospitality where others might expect hostility, Allan relishes his adventures. Along the way, the readers learn about this incredible man’s past, a past that makes his improbable present so exceedingly ordinary. This is because Allan has not only met many of the movers and shakers of Twentieth Century history, but played a pivotal role in most of the major events – grand and catastrophic.
Laugh out loud at times and deeply poignant in others, this is a great read that demands you suspend your disbelief, buckle your seatbelt and go along for what is a wild and gratifying ride.
Engagingly written, it’s hard to put down and leaves you with a warm and very contented feeling that makes ageing seem like a hell of a lot more fun that it’s often cracked up to be; certainly more exciting than remaining in a nursing home counting the days.
Tags: adventure, ageing, American Presidents, Atomic Bombs, China, Churchill, de Gaulle, France, history, Indonesia, Jonas Jonasson, Lyndon B Johnson, Mao Zedong, North Korea, Oppenheimer, Russia, Stalin, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, Turman
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I usually love Steve Berry books. I grab them off the shelves and read them quickly because they’re genuine page-turners and damn interesting. The Columbus Affair, however, wasn’t quite either of these. I turned the pages more to get to the end and it was only interesting in parts.
Basically (without spoiling the story) this novel follows the adventures of a journalist, Tom Sagan, who as the book opens is about to commit suicide. He discovers he’s “the Levite” a keeper of a special Jewish treasure that has ties back to the days of Columbus and his voyages to the Americas. This knowledge sets off a chain of events and dangerous adventures that puts lives on the line (of course!). Spanning Europe, America, Jamaica and South America, the book is, in typical Berry fashion, wide in temporal and geographical scope. It also features the Magellan Billet, though no Cotton Malone.
Overall, however, I felt this book wasn’t up to the standard of his others – it was too didactic. Berry was determined to show off his research and the knowledge he gained and subsequently played with (the way he sometimes does this is very clever), but I felt the narrative suffered as a consequence. There was too much telling. Another reason I didn’t feel this book was as good as his previous ones was the decision to make a suicidal journalist his main protagonist. I didn’t mind the fact there was no Malone, as much as I like him. No, what made this character so problematic was for reasons the novel makes clear, this guy is basically despised by former colleagues (he’s stripped of his Pulitzer and his once fine reputation is in tatters) and completely alienated from his family. In other words, loathed by everyone. Therefore, it’s hard for the reader to like him as well. He had so few redeeming qualities. Likewise, his daughter, Alle, was a complete pain in the arse. I also found her stupid – and considering she was doing her PhD, some of the decisions she made and conclusions she leapt to, the people she put her faith in, didn’t ring true to me. The main villain, Zacariah, was so bad, a child would have run screaming from him – but not Alle. No, she gave him more chances than a casino. In the end, she came across as more of a convenient and sloppy narrative device that didn’t add any depth or richness to the tale.
I am sure many people will like this book and, really, I give it two and half stars. There are some good moments, some interesting ideas, but it was a bit too black and white and preachy for me. Nonetheless, this hasn’t deterred me. I will look forward to the next Berry book and continue to enjoy reading his back catalogue.
Tags: action, adventure, Christopher Columbus, Judaism, Steve Berry, the Magellan Billet
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