ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Lovable characters give Jonasson life

The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden takes many hilarious twists and turns.

I’m guessing publishers were beating down doors when Jonas Jonasson went shopping for someone to print and distribute his second novel, The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden.

Like the downtrodden, but uncannily lucky characters in his own books, Jonasson was turned away by major publishing houses when trying to find someone to print his first feel-good and funny novel, The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared.

A small and relatively new publishing house picked up the book, which went on to become a major international bestseller, selling more than a million copies and getting translated into 25 languages.

With The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden, Jonasson offers up much of the same unique, fast-paced charm. His style is unique, not sombre like some Scandinavian literature, but definitely filled with plenty of the countries’ off-beat humour.

The girl who actually saved the King of Sweden, and the hero of the book, is a classic underdog. Nombeko is young and black, and cleans latrines in Soweto during apartheid. You can’t get much more disenfranchised than that. And yet, through a series of fast-paced and remarkable circumstances, Nombeko begins working as a housemaid for a high-profile engineer, who also happens to be the head of South Africa’s nuclear weapons program.

Nombeko turns out to be a whiz with numbers, and spends more time reading from the engineer’s library than dusting. She soon knows more than her bumbling, alcoholic boss, and makes an extraordinary escape from the facility with one of the bombs and 100-pounds of antelope meat.

Dodging Israeli intelligence officers, Nombeko lands in Sweden, and squats in an abandoned apartment building with, among other strange characters, a man aiming to fulfill his father’s wish to kill the King of Sweden.

All this craziness takes place in the first few chapters with many, many more hilarious and zany twists and turns to follow, ending with the prime minister of Sweden, the King, the bomb and Nombeko crammed into the back of a potato truck.

Those who loved The 100-Year-Old Man, will undoubtedly be hoping for more of the same with The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden. Although with an entirely different plot, Jonasson has delivered. While his style may begin to grow a bit old when pulled out for a second time, it’s still wonderful to spend some time with his naive yet lovable characters, who somehow always manage to be in the right place at the right time.

Heather Allen is a book reviewer and avid reader.

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