Jonasson seems to have hit on a formula that works: a main character who always has the best and worst of luck, leading to marvellous adventures and near catastrophes at every turn, whilst having an impact on world politics. Nombeko Mayeki accumulates a motley cast of friends along the way, all with vastly varying degrees of intelligence; and as with The Hundred Year of Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, there is, of course, a bomb involved, but just the one and Nombeko isn’t the one who made it; she just desperately wants to get rid of it.
The bomb is the perpetual elephant in the room, or crate in this case. At 3-megatons, it’s capable of destroying absolutely everything within a 38 mile radius, or more if the wind is just right. It makes its way from South Africa to Sweden through some rather imaginative and ingenious label switching. This is quite unbeknown to Nombeko, who is expecting to receive 120 pounds of dried Antelope meat; a rather hefty amount, but something she’s certain is not that easy to come by in Sweden. So, instead of a tasty treat, she has unwittingly helped Sweden onto the list of nuclear countries, without (almost) anyone batting an eyelid.
But how does a poor, black South African girl find herself in Sweden, guardian to a pesky nuclear weapon, when it was assumed that, like all the other illiterates in Soweto, she would die early from some nasty disease probably contracted from her job as a latrine emptier? Well, naturally, Nombeko is no ordinary girl. Possessed with an uncanny intelligence, thirst for knowledge, and a most agreeable personality, she proves herself indispensible with mathematics, constantly saving the dimwits who are supposed to be in charge.
This is no less so than with Engelbrecht van der Westhuizen, the dumbest engineer on the planet. Nombeko ends up having to serve a sentence working for him as his housekeeper. This is all done within the heavily-guarded compound where Westhuizen is in charge of a secret nuclear weapons program. Due to her absolute brilliance and his unequivocal stupidity, she becomes his “right hand man,” plotting her escape over many years. It is unfortunate, however, that one of his bombs escapes with her.
As Jonasson leads us through the comedy of errors that is Nombeko’s life, we see her in Sweden in the company of twins Holger One and Holger Two, who are on a mission to bring down the Swedish monarchy. One’s irascible girlfriend and her “Countess” potato farming grandmother are also added into the mix, and let’s not forget the two Mossad Agents close on Nombeko’s heels, King Carl XVI Gustaf and the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt .
Jonasson interweaves fantastical fiction with fact and real characters, providing us with an educational, yet completely implausible, wonderfully funny story. What on earth will he come up with next? I can’t wait to find out.