WHAT I READ

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

Reviewed by David Edwards

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden is the second novel from author Jonas Jonasson.  His first book, The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out The Window And Disappeared was a runaway best seller due in no small part to his distinctive style of blending the improbable and the ridiculous with real events of the past. The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden continues this winning theme to highlight some of the darkest days of recent history. Comedy is the vehicle that leads the reader on a bizarre journey that includes the last years of apartheid in South Africa when in desperation, an atomic bomb was allegedly developed to try and stave off the inevitable transition to black majority rule.

Taking real events such as apartheid that caused untold suffering for millions and dissecting the rationale for such brutal policies through the vehicles of comedy and insightful thinking makes for provoking reading.  The author uses his characters most astutely to systematically dismantle the facile justification behind various political or economic policies that sought to advantage a select few at the expense of the masses. Now seen in hindsight through the characters of this book, the justifications once seen as infallible now appear farcical.

The central character, Nombeko Mayek, is a loveable knockabout girl from the slums of Soweto, South Africa who possesses the will and the wit to survive many threats and challenges faced as she develops from an innocent, exploited child to a mature worldly figure capable of holding her own anywhere.

Students of history familiar with leaders and events dating from WW2 to present day will enjoy the wry,  astute observations of Nombeko regarding prevailing attitudes, beliefs and prejudices of the time. Nombeko’s innate ability to think strategically when the world is falling apart around her is most entertaining but it also serves as a vehicle to highlight the failings of bureaucratic processes, hierarchies and the follies of self aggrandisement that she so often encounters. Very few (if any) individuals possess the complete array of analytical skills displayed by Nombeko.  Her prowess and ability to rise from the ashes however is a constant source of entertainment and it provides the core to this novel.

The voice used by the author provides a most refreshing and engaging storytelling style.  The author is both observer and the conscience of the characters involved. Unspoken thoughts and questions are often interposed with dialogue as if all had been spoken aloud.  Clever devices are used to transition time and place and the direct somewhat confronting style of Nombeko is used most effectively to progress the story without laborious explanations and the building of layers of context that can sometimes slow the narrative.

Jonas Jonasson has struck upon a rich vein of thought through this and his earlier book. It is a theme that offers untold possibilities for future novels. I look forward to the next result of his fertile imagination. The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden is published by Harper Collins (translated by Rod Bradbury) and is also available on E-reader through Amazon.

For those readers who are yet to discover Jonas Jonasson I have critiqued his first book below.

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

The bizarre title should be the immediate giveaway to this equally bizarre work of fiction which threads real-life historical figures with their many idiosyncrasies into the life of Allan Karlsson; a nursing home resident about to celebrate his 100th birthday in Sweden.

The fact that Allan decides to abscond from the nursing home comes as no surprise when we begin to appreciate the boundless spirit of adventure that has driven Allan from an early age and brought him face to face with such luminaries as Kim Jon Il, Harry Truman, Franco, Josef Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, President Suharto, Albert Einstein, President Johnson, Mao, builders of the US atomic bomb and more.  Allan’s fatalistic take on life and enduring self- belief have him at the forefront of events that changed the world during the Twentieth Century.

This is a black comedy of the most ridiculous kind.  After escaping from the nursing home, Allan steals a suitcase containing a vast fortune. From there begins a series of escapades involving criminals, opportunists, bumbling egotistical police and circumstances that belong more to a comic book genre.  Reality has very little to do with this wonderful tale.  The novel from start to finish is pure fantasy that leverages landmark historical events and figures to paint a world beset by endless ideological and physical conflicts. The narrative as dialogue between Allan and his travelling partners and the historical figures he encounters parodies the idiocy and pointlessness of such conflicts.  Allan is at times a man with wisdom beyond his years and at others naïve in the extreme. His ‘devil may care’ approach to life places him in dire peril in countless situations and this same attitude combined with astute reading of the foibles of those in power enable him to escape time and again.

Swedes are generally not known as an easy going people with a light hearted approach to life. In recent times Swedish writers have gained fame with raw crime thriller television series such as The Killing, The Bridge and Wallender and for novels deep with dark and foreboding themes. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared clearly shows there is another side to the Swedish character. This novel shatters the familiar mould in a most welcome manner.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is now an international best seller with sales exceeding two million. The book delivers light relief, embellished historical context and a sense of the ridiculous almost beyond compare. It is highly recommended and available on Amazon e-books.