In The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, Jonas Jonasson unfurls a wide, whimsical net that readers will relish being caught up in. Things go from just bad to comically worse to enjoyably ridiculous in this tongue-in-cheek tale. From South Africa to Sweden, from latrine cleanup to atom bomb cover-up, from pillows to presidents and potato farms, Jonasson’s wittily constructed web intertwines historical figures and facts with the exploits of a decidedly less plausible (but more entertaining) cast of characters.

Nombeko Mayeki, the titular “girl,” begins the novel as an illiterate savant, growing up but going nowhere in 1960s Soweto. Her goal—to reach the National Library in Pretoria—spurs a Quixotic journey that leads to encounters with three Han dynasty pottery forgers, twin Swedish brothers with identity crises, one unbalanced American Vietnam War deserter and two Israeli Mossad agents, just to highlight a few. And then there’s the kinship she develops with a Chinese official while acting as his interpreter on safari that comes in rather handy later on. The laugh-out-loud moments begin to pile up, making this book nearly impossible to put down, except to scratch your head at those same moments.

In this, his second novel—his first, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, was an international bestseller—Jonasson again exercises his flair for the satirical. It would seem nothing is outside his authorial grasp, from explaining the intricacies of nuclear energy to opining on international politics. This is an escape that manages to engage both the wit and the intellect as the characters’ scrapes turn into would-be catastrophes that are, of course, narrowly avoided. Readers of Francois Lelord and Alexander McCall Smith will find much to appreciate in Jonasson’s style.


This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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