Fast-moving and relentlessly sunny, the novel quickly develops into a romp that takes in all the major events of the 20th century. Like Forrest Gump, Allan is an innocent with the knack of being in the right place at the right time. He has also had a hand in everything from the Russian revolution to Reagan's Star Wars … Like Allan, the plot is pleasingly nimble and the book's endearing charm offers a happy alternative to the more familiar Nordic noir.
...a story that is loaded with absurdities from beginning to end … [Allan is] neither immoral nor amoral, but he is certainly detached, and he is absolutely apolitical. In the past, he insults Stalin (luckily, the translator faints), learns Russian in a gulag and walks back to Sweden from China, barely surviving execution in Iran along the way. In the present, he meets a strange and delightful collection of friends and enemies. Coincidence and absurdity are at the core of this silly and wonderful novel. Looking back, it seems there are no hilarious, roll-on-the-floor-laughing scenes. They will just keep readers amused almost nonstop, and that’s a feat few writers achieve.
The latest Swedish blockbuster, translated by Rod Bradbury, features a centenarian named Allan who, tired of living in a nursing home, escapes out the window … It’s a cute premise, but the right-place-right-time concept obviously isn’t original (see Forrest Gump and Zelig). Moreover, it’s easy to predict what will happen to Allan, since his life follows the course of a 20th-century history textbook. From 1943 to 1945, he’s employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. A few years later, he finds himself in a Russian gulag. Where was the action in 1968? Why, Paris, of course. And Allan makes it there in time to witness the uprisings that nearly shut down the city. By then, the shtick has worn a little thin.