Weekly quote

Reading is not work, not a chore, not drudgery; reading is the most joyful thing, yet, in the world.

James Patterson

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I’m really into Russians again…

Russian writers, that is. Way back in the day when I was still in high school, we had to compile what was called a documentation folder for our Dutch class (I went to school in the Netherlands). Basically, you had to come up with a subject, a few statements about the subject you wanted to investigate and then you had to write almost a very scaled-down thesis on that subject. This thesis would then be backed up with LOTS of quotes from different sources, mostly books, on that subject, which you would have to properly reference. I really enjoyed doing that project. I had to do two, one in each of the last two years of high school. The first one I did about porcelain, which I am still interested in, although I don’t actually own any; and the second about Leo Tolstoy. At 16 I was probably too young to really understand what Tolstoy did and what he stood for, but I did enjoy reading Anna Karenina and (parts of) War and Peace. I also read some of his political writings, although I have to confess I don’t remember much about that anymore. During that time of my life I became very interested in Russian writers, although, again, I think I was a bit too young to really understand and appreciate everything.

When I was on holiday in the Netherlands just recently, I watched the movie The Last Station, which is about the last period in Leo Tolstoy’s life. It is a very good movie, with excellent performances by Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren and it really got me excited about re-reading Tolstoy’s work again. When I got home, I first considered reading Anna Karenina, but then I discovered that I have The Gulag Archipelago in my bookcase, which I had not read yet. So I have finally taken it off the shelf and started reading it. It is a very big book and I was a bit concerned it would be dry, as it is essentially non-fiction. However, Solzjenitsyn writes with surprising humour, keeping me very interested in what was quite a horrific time in Russian history. I am not very far advanced in the book yet, as I have also started studying which takes up most of my evenings, but so far I am fascinated, horrified and very interested. And I have rediscovered how much I like Russian history and Russian authors. Next on my list is definitely Anna Karenina and I may even attempt War and Peace again.

And finally, a shout-out to blogger Julian Froment and his blog Julian Froment’s blog where he writes (among other things) about his reading challenges. Those blog posts have inspired me to tackle books that are a bit ┬ámore challenging than my normal reading material and so far I am happy I have decided to do so. In due course I will write a review of The Gulag Archipelago, but that may take a while.

Book review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

hundred year oldI had heard a lot of people talk about this book. It seemed like everyone was reading it and that made me instantaneously suspicious of it. I generally do not like books that are hyped up, as I end up being disappointed with them due to the high expectation I had of it.

Then my mother, whose judgement in books I wholly trust, recommended it and as I was taking a wee break from editing, I thought I would give it a chance. And I was not disappointed.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared is a hilarious story of Allan Karlsson, who, on hhis hundredth birthday decides to climb out of the window and escape the old people’s home. He had not planned to disappear, but he gets the thought in his head and acts on it immediately. He climbed into the flower bed with his bedroom slippers and sets off to live life once more.

Allan ends up at the bus station, as he is eager to leave town and there he seizes the opportunity to get away with a young man’s suitcase. From there, hilarious events ensue, interspersed with flashbacks to adventures from his past. As the reader gets to know Allan better, it becomes apparent that he is not an ordinary hundred-year-old man. He has played a key role behind the scenes in some of history’s momentous events. He has met Stalin, Truman, Franco, Mao Tse-tung, Winston Churchill and many other people of influence. Without ever seeking fame or fortune, Allan easily interacts with all these important figures without ever being intimidated. His everlasting optimism carries him through some very rough spots in his life.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Although some of the events stretch the imagination somewhat more than usual, the book does not feel contrived, and the very far-fetched events are nevertheless interesting, amusing and entertaining. If you are looking for deep meanings in a book, this might not be one for you, but it is definitely a wonderfully entertaining book, written in a very entertaining style. In Allan Jonas Jonasson has created a person who is so much more than a character, a person who you have no trouble believing could have been real, despite all the incredible things that have happened to him. And that, to me, is the mark of a great writer and a great book.