book club, review

Book Club #7 – The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden

As much as I hate having to type out the long title of this past month’s book, The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson has been a great addition to the book club.

This book is, despite what many people might think, one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while. Normally, I would go on writing about everything that happens in the story, but I’m thinking you can find countless summaries online. Instead, let me tell you about what I thought when reading this book.

I’ve never read The One-Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window (typing that out just tired me, let me rest a moment…), by the same author, but many people have told me it is a great book. Also, a lot of people who have read both books out there were a bit disappointing by Jonasson’s second book. In my case, I have absolutely no reference, other than the knowledge he has written an equally long-titled book.

So, as usual (do I even have to say it?), if you haven’t read the book yet, beware of the spoilers ahead (seriously, you all should know by now…).

It was the first time, as far as I can remember, that I’ve read a book whose title tells me the end of the story, and that was an interesting experience. During the whole book I’ve been wondering how the story was going to turn and twist to get to the point where she saves the king of Sweden. That was quite fun while reading, although my eyes were trying to read ahead on the pages to see what might come next.

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden (copy and paste, thank you very much), starts by introducing us to the latrine cleaners in Soweto, which couldn’t be any farther from Sweden, even if you tried. We meet Nombeko, who is a little girl working to pay her mother’s addiction to some alcoholic drink. She is very clever, even though she’s supposed to be illiterate, and little by little she climbs on her career in the latrine company, department, something like that. Then we are introduced to the Swedish postal worker Ingmar Qvist, who is obsessed to meet the king of Sweden since a brief encounter when he was a child. As you can see, it’s highly improbable that the two story lines will cross, and that a poor girl from the poorest parts of Soweto will ever meet the king of Sweden, let alone save him.

There’s a big chunk of the book during which both stories run parallel, but completely unrelated. Actually, not exactly parallel, as the story about the king is before Nombeko was born. The postal worker changes his mind after an encounter with the old king, and decides that monarchy sucks and that it should be eliminated. He has two sons, identical twins, and he decides to call them both Holger (because that’s what you do when you have twins).

While reading the book, parts of how it was written reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s style, which I think was probably a reason why I liked it from the start.

The book has plenty of winks to the reader, and a lot of sass, as well as unlikely situations that make the plot more and more complicated and unthinkable.

However, it has a lot of ring of truth in many of the situations described, from how the political situation was in South Africa, to how bureaucracy works (as it happens, it’s not as easy as it would seem to call the Prime Minister of Sweden to warn him about an atomic bomb). I think the mixture between these serious historical moments, the sort of half-hidden criticism of some political figures, with the hilarity of the situations the characters find themselves in is what makes the book work so beautifully.

Nombeko’s unlikely story is part luck, part stubbornness to never give up. She is an intelligent girl (and later, woman), who instead of resigning herself to the status quo, she finds ways to overcome the obstacles in her life. The way she helps the engineer until she becomes so indispensable that he even brings her along outside the compound when the translator is bitten by a snake (and believes he’s going to die), is but a tiny example. Her wit and her ability to turn bad situations to her advantage are truly impressive, no matter how long it will take her.

While reading the book, you really can’t wait for the paths of Nombeko and Holger Two to cross. Holger Two, a person who doesn’t exist, and who has always lived in the shadow of his twin brother, Holger One, even though he’s the most intelligent and reasonable of the two. Up until that point, the story becomes a bit boring at times, but it’s just because of the anticipation you feel knowing it’s just going to get better when the two kooky stories are brought together!

Nombeko ends up travelling to Sweden and finds herself with an atomic bomb that she needs to hide from the Mossad, and Holger One and his girlfriend, because who knows what those two might do with a bomb and the belief that monarchy sucks (that Holger One got from his dad).

The story becomes more and more twisted and funny, and everything seems to be going wrong all the time. Somehow, however, the atomic bomb never explodes, and we get to meet the king of Sweden (son of the initial king we met at the beginning of the book), who is a rather nice guy who doesn’t have a problem killing some chickens for dinner or getting dirty with soil to harvest some potatoes.

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden (copy and paste, a life saver again) was a rather unexpected book, and one I really enjoyed reading. Jonas Jonasson writes about serious stuff in a very lightheartedly manner, and while reading online about what others have had to say about this book, I’ve come across a lot of great feedback about his first book, the other with a long title (see somewhere above, I’m too lazy to type it again! Ha-ha), so I’m probably going to read that one at some point as well.

Did you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The book we’ve chosen for May is God Help The Child, by Toni Morrison. It’s an easy-to-read book that hooked me from the beginning (and one of those books I’ve read in a day!), so I can’t wait to write about that one as well.