When I first came across this title, my first thought was, yeah I got the story. 100 year old man climbed out of the window and disappeared. Book done. Reading goals, accomplished.
Ah but there was a catch. I was curious. And that’s what made me turn the page. Good I did because I enjoyed turning the next 300-odd. Jonas Jonasson’s book is simple and what I’d like to call ‘slow humour’, the kind I’m beginning to appreciate as I inch menacingly into Allan Karlsson’s league hopefully, a full 100. Well, I’m on the better side of 40 but with all the push ups I chose not to do in order to find time to read this book, slow humour seems to be the safest option. Imagine laughing so hard you burst a coronary. That happens too, by the way, but in the last few chapters.
I came away with a few lessons through Allan’s story. He’s a Swede and I don’t know the significance because I’ve never interacted with one. Dutch yes, Swede, no. So, I may have enjoyed this book even for that reason. No baggage. Following are all quotes I collected from my reading. Please don’t assume I’m this smart myself; although I’ve peppered these with my comments in places, which if you’d like to ignore, I’ll italicise:
#1: Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be. That meant, among other things, that you didn’t make a fuss, especially when there was a good reason to do.
I love this one as it comes really close to my eternal favourite maxim of living the good life: Never complain, never explain.
#2: Allan blew up what he was told to blow up, and he did so with considerable skill.
To the uninitiated, our Allan here is a self-taught explosives expert. Someone contracts him to blow up a few buildings and bridges and he’s the best man for the job. The ethical minefield is not his to claim or maintain. That’s for the person who asks him to blow things up. As for Allan, he started his professional journey by blowing up his own home. He owes no one. This is a lesson for me in a slightly roundabout way – be so good at your job that… well, just be very good at your job and you’ll be fine.
#3: The Boss found it desperately hard to understand why people didn’t just do as he said and nothing more.
Aha, the quintessential question every team worker, team member, team leader asks and empathises with. Nothing to say here, it’s just a lesson. I have no comments, I just feel for this ‘the Boss’. Let me clarify that this ‘the Boss’ is the leader of a criminal gang called ‘Never Again’. Think what you will.
#4 Never try to out-drink a Swede, unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian.
I’ve read this about vikings, Frenchmen, Mallus, Bongs and heard them say it too. Some in comics, some in real life. Am sure so have you. As a teetotaller, I find it funny that a human being’s – mostly men – first measure of prowess is the ability to hold a drink. Well as it stands, my liver is the conscientious objector and for this one thing, I’ll never know.
#5: People could do what they wanted, but Allan considered that in general it was quite unnecessary to be grumpy if you had the chance to.
Throwback to lesson #1 and yes, wholeheartedly agree.
#6: Allan was not one to pin his hopes (or, for that matter, his fears) on what might happen in the immediate future. What happened happened. There was no point second-guessing it.
Allan is smart. Be like Allan.
#7: The car and its fittings would have been a brilliant example of Soviet socialist engineering if it hadn’t all been imported from England.
A lot of my intellectual friends will perhaps gleefully fixate on how apolitical Allan’s attitude and personal philosophy appear to be. But you see dearies, Allan isn’t apolitical. And nor is this story. His life story begins in the crucible of being abandoned by a socialist freak of a father, leaving his mom (and him) in a lurch, and the rest of his life he spends trying to walk through disasters brought on by Communism and Socialism. His story ends in finding love in perhaps one of the most corrupt countries as Indonesia is portrayed, I have not personally experienced the wonders of Bali. The above sentence is a commentary on all champions of socialism / communism / other idiotic -isms that seek to control human creativity and enterprise. But learn this, no matter how much controllers try it, you cannot scuttle these ‘capitalist’ freaks because get this, they. are. smarter. than. you. If you see them playing by your rules, get this too, you’ve been had. And that’s the best deal you get because you suck eggs at what you do. Unlike Allan. So there it is again, be like Allan.
#8. Allan had nothing against working for two. But he soon introduced a rule: Herbert wasn’t allowed to complain about how miserable his life was. Allan had already understood that to be the case, and there was nothing wrong with his memory. To keep on saying the same thing over and over again thus served no purpose.
Some people have a template for their mindset, which they use every single day, all the time. My guess is that’s how they feel safe because it spares them the trouble, unlike Allan, of doing new things by getting out of their comfort zone, and doing them well. Because, we have some sort of unwritten rule in the society to expect lower standards from people if they prove to you that they feel miserably about life. I had a cook like that. At first, seeing her misery, I was happy to help her. Then I helped her some more. Then some more. But as time went on, I saw that her misery kept on growing as help kept piling. One day finally, I understood the causal link between the two unlikely phenomena. She, out of her love for misery, went AWOL to her village for a month. I think miserable people are very selfish. They don’t think twice about transferring their misery to others while recognising their own misery and its toxic effects. So, anyway, here’s what I did. I scouted for a non-miserable cook and here we are, me enjoying eating crisp dosas and her, enjoying cooking them. It’s a little less exciting than before but all in all, this is a better deal. I don’t tell her of my troubles and she doesn’t tell me about hers. Sure, I don’t feel morally as grand as I used to but the feeling of a full stomach and the peace I have in my mind more than makes up for it.
#9. Life worked in such a way that right was not necessarily right, but rather what the person in charge said what was right.
This hardly needs any explanation; except, in Hindi we have something like ‘Jiski lathi uski bhains’. Which essentially means the same thing.
#10. Politics was often not only unnecessary, but sometimes also unnecessarily complicated.
#11. It had been exciting, the entire journey, but nothing lasts forever, except possibly general stupidity.
Again, Touche. And well, nothing to add here.
Except, go read the book.