Saturday, 24 May 2014

The King Who Saved the King of Sweden: Jonas Jonasson (Sweden)

As delightfully wry and witty as his bestselling debut, ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’, this is a tale of how one woman’s attempt to change her future ended up changing everything.
Nombeko Mayeki is on the run from the world’s most ruthless secret service – with three Chinese sisters, twins who are officially one person and an elderly potato farmer. Oh, and the fate of the King of Sweden – and the world – rests on her shoulders.
Born in a Soweto shack in 1961, Nombeko was destined for a short, hard life. When she was run over by a drunken engineer her luck changed. Alive, but blamed for the accident, she was made to work for the engineer – who happened to be in charge of a project vital to South Africa’s security. Nombeko was good at cleaning, but brilliant at understanding numbers. The drunk engineer wasn’t – and made a big mistake. And now only Nombeko knows about it …
The 100 Year Old Man was always going to be a hard act to follow, but Jonasson has done it again with this uproariously funny tale that somehow manages to poke fun at well, almost everyone. The first book covered many different nations - North Korea, China and Russia among others while this one covers mainly Israel and South Africa. One has to wonder which nations will be the butt of Jonasson's humour next - a dry humour which I have to say is not unlike my own, or so I have been told. Maybe this is why Jonasson's books seem to have such universal appeal, for all we like to take the piss out of those in control, and he writes very much like many of us speak - straight to the point with no punches pulled.

The book starts very much as it means to go on with the young Nombeko, a shit carrier by trade, who soon progressed through the ranks to be in charge of all the other shit carriers - well I guess, someone has to do it. When she is run over by a drunken fool masquerading as a nuclear engineer, she has a stroke of luck that ultimately (depending on how you look at it) destines her for greater things. Forced to work as cleaner for this man she is transported to his home to live out what can only be described as her sentence, she meets a trio of Chinese girls, who like Nombeko herself have been forced to work for said engineer to pay off their own debts to him - for selling him fake antique geese.

Nombeko who unsurprisingly has more sense that her drunken boss soon realises that this is a nuclear facility where they are building bombs - officially six, although there is a seventh one that it not listed. She decides that she has to somehow get rid of this extraneous bomb and so begins her journey to exile in Sweden where she meets a pair of identical twins one of whom like the bomb and Nombeko herself (by now an illegal immigrant) doesn't exist, an elderly potato farmer and a very angry young woman. Add to the mix 2 Mosad agents and an American potter who thinks the CIA are out to get him and you get one extremely strange, but extremely funny farce. It all comes out in the wash, as all good tales do and they settle down and live happily ever after, but not before more than a few outrageous gags, pretty much everyone's expense.

This book took a bit longer to get going than the first and the humour was perhaps more hidden, but in writing it Jonasson has reaffirmed his place as one of Europe's funniest writers in a long while. One wonders what he will come up with next. If you like a good laugh and have even a passing interest in political satire, you must read this book. In one fell swoop it manages to tackle the serious subjects of racism, illegal immigrants and political corruption and somehow make them funny. It should be compulsory reading for all existing and would-be politicians.

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