As we sipped on our freshly-brewed Lijiang tea, our thoughts drifted to what we were about to embark on. Mama Naxi glided across and presented us with our lucky rainbow woven necklaces for the trip. We hesitated. What if we slipped off the edge, washed along in the muddy flow, never to be seen again?!
That sinking feeling started to dance down our bodies and none of us seemed in any rush to finish our hearty breakfasts. I decided to eat my banana now.
No point in waiting for a trek that might not occur. As I began to peel, we all stared in the same direction, surprise quickly becoming the feeling of the moment. That old lady from the bus to Dali was sat behind us, nibbling on some pancakes as she typed away like some secretarial whizz-kid from days gone by.
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What was she doing here and who was she emailing? Curiosity got the better of us. I casually strode across the room to take a glance.
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From the moment we boarded the bus in Kunming- three foreign girls on a bus to somewhere mysterious- the last thing we were expecting to see was an old white lady of around 90 years old, traveling solo in south-west rural China. She was sat on the front sea, a book in her hands and a look of familiarity in her innocent eyes. When we reached Dali four hours later, we watched as she navigated the streets like a pro, hopping into a tuk-tuk with an air of elegance. All we could do was laugh as we clambered into a taxi, no idea where we were headed. We gave her a smile and she carried on her merry way.
Who was this lady?!
Eyes glued to her neatly-brushed hair, we were mesmerised as she wandered up to Mama Naxi and asked when the next bus to Tiger-Leaping Gorge would be departing. Here we were- three fit young 24 year olds- debating whether we could undertake a two day trek along one of the highest gorges in the world after an abundance of rain, and the old mysterious traveling lady was headed in exactly that direction.
Written by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson, the book packs a hundred years into pages, during most of which the reader is literally laughing out loud.
Never too old for Adventure
Bizarre situations are described in the most rational of tones, making The Hundred-Year-Old Man a festival of absurd humour. Originally written in Swedish, the book discredits a widely held belief that translations cannot deliver the complexities an author intends. The novel is quick-paced, never letting its language give into the deeper themes at play.
On his th birthday, Allan shuffles his way to the bus station in the sleepy town of Malmkoping and buys a ticket to whichever bus is departing within the next three minutes. Those three minutes prove to be fateful when a longhaired youth crudely and rudely asks him to look out for his suitcase while he goes to the bathroom. Deeming this lack of courtesy as deserving of a little punishment, Allan takes the suitcase with him when he boards the bus.
Unbeknownst to him, Allan has just left with almost two million dollars. Along the way, Allan takes four strangers into the fold, all equally eccentric in their own right, but this mix pales in comparison to the people he has encountered over his one hundred years. Allan has wined with Harry Truman and dined with Stalin.
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His proximity to world leaders puts him in a unique position in history and we learn of the critical role this Swede played in many great events. The narrative switches back and forth between episodes from his past and the convivial crime-fest in the present, with the effect that for Allan, the adventure never ends. It is a less-than-gracious way to go but the hilarity with which the episode is described distracts us from the fact that a man has just been crushed to death.
Moreover, his area of expertise, i. Allan also seems to be mocking death by being able to steer clear of it in light of his love for vodka. The novel culminates much like the feature films Forrest Gump or Catch Me if You Can, but the ending leaves the reader a little more wanting. Without giving away much, there is a disconnect between the detached asexual Allan built up over the novel and the one we encounter in the end.
Perhaps Jonasson wanted to reward the centenarian in some way but the overall result is a slightly unsatisfactory ending. However, this is not to take away from the light-hearted, cheerful novel. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared makes you wonder just how many ordinary people are essential puzzle pieces behind extraordinary events. Read this book, if not for the enjoyment then the succinct history lesson it provides. Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on Dawn.
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