A 100-Year-Old Man Does the Unthinkable(s)

On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson climbs out of the window of his Swedish nursing home and makes a run for it. Actually, as most people his age would do, he shuffles off to an adventure that leaves readers to decide if he is a hero or a bumbling fool.

Take a deep breath for the title: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson. Karlsson’s daring escape from his caretakers quickly becomes the least surprising of his actions in this ridiculous, but charming story. His life becomes linked with an unlikely collection of co-conspirators, shady criminals, and law enforcement officers. Millions of crowns, several killings, explosions and an elephant named Sonya all play roles.

If you are a history buff, you may be intrigued by his connections to Harry Truman, Mao Tse-tung, General Franco and Joseph Stalin. And explosives. Then there is his role in the development of nuclear weaponry.

At the beginning of the story, I turned pages as fast as I could. I got bogged down a few times in the flashbacks to his earlier exploits, told in perhaps too much detail. But if I live to be 100, I know I will share Allan Karlsson’s desire to do the unexpected, to defy those who think they have me figured out. I just hope those who follow me are as curious about my fate as I was about Allan Karlsson’s.

Hermann Hesse’s Journey of the Heart

Narcissus, a young adult, lives a sheltered life in a monastery with other monks who value quiet contemplation. His faith and lifestyle travel a path relatively free of pain and suffering. And passion. He is tied to a sense of duty.

Narcissus welcomes Goldmund, a teen-ager, to the cloister and guides him to peer deep inside himself. Goldmund discovers his own artistic talents as well as his restless soul. He leaves Narcissus to live the life of a homeless, faithless man who endures great pain and suffering. Passion is his driving force.

Whose life was superior? Happier? More worthy?

After many years, Goldmund returns to Narcissus and from the messiness of Goldmund’s life, the monk finds his own clarity and realizes the depth of his love for his former student. His revelations will give readers pause.

Narcissus and Goldmund. German philosopher/author Hermann Hesse at his best.

What? Are Cats Goners?

A doctor tells a young postman that he has brain cancer and just days to live. As the postman considers what to do with the rest of his life, the devil appears, wearing an Hawaiian shirt and offering a deal: Give me permission to take something from the world and you get an extra day to live.

If Cats Disappeared from the World, a hand-sized book of 168 pages, takes the unnamed protagonist on a journey of discovery as he adds days to his life, but learns that some things are more important than life itself. Japanese author Genki Kawamura’s first novel sold more than a million copies in Japan and was adapted for film in 2016. Eric Selland wrote the English translation of the book.

The light, humorous story takes readers deep into the postman’s life while he contemplates relationships, mortality, and his cat, named Cabbage. Suspense builds as he sees the results of his deals with the devil.

No spoilers here; I won’t name the things the devil chooses to take from the world. I will say this: If Cats Disappeared from the World is the best book I have read in 2020.