The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
The very first review I posted on this blog was Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. Shortly after posting that, I bought The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden with the intention of reading it straight away; only a year later did I actually get round to picking it up. An easy, light-hearted read was exactly what I was looking for at the start of the year, and I knew from The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared that Jonasson’s writing filled that description.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden follows the story of protagonist Nombeko, a black South African born under apartheid, throughout her extraordinary life and experiences. After outsmarting everyone around her, Nombeko ends on the run from Mossad as a refugee in Sweden, where she doesn’t technically exist, in accidental possession of a nuclear weapon that officially never existed. While in Sweden she is reunited with three Chinese sisters who make fake Han dynasty pottery and meets twins who are the same person, an angry young woman, a neurotic potter, and the young woman’s self-appointed countess grandmother. Like The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, the novel’s premise makes for a bizarre summary of what is a very readable narrative with engaging characters. If you enjoy the chaotic, dry tone of Jonasson’s writing, this novel will definitely appeal: it is fun and unbelievable in the best possible way.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, however, deals with much darker issues than The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. Nombeko is born in a shack under apartheid and is on the receiving end of extreme racism and injustice: she is nearly sexually assaulted and is sent into forced labour after an accident that wasn’t her fault. Despite the light-hearted nature of the novel, Jonasson manages to bring through the seriousness of these issues without compromising on the comedic tone throughout.
The novel does lose pace in the middle as the characters wait in Gnesta for their grand plans to fall into place. Jonasson makes it clear that this period of waiting is a frustration for the characters, but there is still a danger that the reader will lose interest in the narrative whilst nothing is happening. Jonasson’s writing is at its best with inexplicable, chaotic coincidences happening in quick succession: in these moments of inactivity, the narrative needs to be pushed forward somehow.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read with a protagonist the reader can’t help but root for: through all the twists and turns of the narrative, there is never a doubt that Nombeko is the one in control. It is her character that takes the novel from just a fun read to a really engaging narrative that is difficult to put down. Despite the slight loss of pace, this is a novel I would definitely recommend.