Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jonas Jonasson - The Girl who saved the King of Sweden

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Nombeko is born in Soweto in South Africa during the year 1961.  She is a latrine emptier.  Her boss, the manager of latrine cleaners, is fired by Piet du Toit, who is the Sanitation Assistant, and a replacement demanded.  As it happens, there is only one person available to replace him, Nombeko.

Nombeko is no ordinary girl.  She has a talent for numbers and an insatiable desire for knowledge.  All other toilet cleaners are addicted, like her mother, to thinner and pills.  From this inhibiting environment, Nombeko is able to win her freedom thanks to her canniness and move to Johannesburg with a view to living her life reading through a library.

As fate would have it, as soon as Nombeko lands in Johannesburg, she is run over by a drunk man.  She is badly injured and dragged to the court and fined for coming under the car of a white man.  She is condemned to serve the man for seven years to work off her fine.  This is how she comes to work as a cleaning woman for Engelbrecht van der Westhuizen.  She soon learns to capitalize on her situation

Engelbrecht is addicted to whiskey and knows nothing about the nuclear bomb facility he is heading.  He got the high marks in college because his father was one of the biggest donors of the University. Being thus privileged, getting the job was a cakewalk for him.  Nombeko helps him out now and then with her superior knowledge.

Trouble starts when Engelbrecht finds he has made seven nuclear bombs instead of six.  There is one spare bomb which will create problems for him and Nombeko as well.

In Sweden Ingmar turns from a Royalist to a Royalist hater when he hit on the head by King Gustav. He wants to sire a son who will help him realize his dream of making the King abdicate.  When the time to deliver his son comes around, he finds he has a spare.  His wife has given birth to twins.  He decides to call them both Holger and declare only one child to the world.

There is a spare bomb in Africa and a spare son in Sweden and their fates are intertwined.

I just LOVED the first few chapters of the book.  They were full of digs against racism and inequality. There was a lot of humorous commentary on the political situation of the time.  As soon as the story lands up in Sweden, things get rather slow.

The story spans several decades, so we are treated to the scenery passing by while the burning issue of what-to-do-with-the-nuclear-device is ticking away dully in the background.

The brilliant Nombeko who was so on fire in South Africa also becomes dull.  The denouement is a long time in coming and not really very impressive when it finally lands.  It has its moments, but nothing compares to the wonderful first part.

There are several references to the world political situation which are very funny and very tongue-in-cheek. Here is one that had me choking with laughter:
According to the president of the People's Repulic of China, they (the kidnapped people) were in good hands, but wasn't that what he thought about the people of Tibet.


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