Book: The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (NEW in 2010)
Did you ever just want to chuck it all and wander in the woods? Leave the business world behind to travel like Barbara Weibel who shares her experience at Hole in the Donut?
If you are too timid to actually cut all the ties to your “civilized” life, but still have a yearning to get away from clocks and calendars, Arto Paasilinna’s The Year of the Hare: A Novel provides the perfect escape literature. A journalist riding across Finland with a photographer, feels the car hit a hare (not a bunny rabbit–hares are larger, related to jack rabbits ). Vatanen, the journalist, gets out to check on the hare, who has retreated into the woods with his broken leg, and the two of them just keep going.
This is no cutsey cartoon version of a Bugs Bunny, but a portrayal of a real animal, and a human who takes responsibility for the fellow animal’s well being. Nevertheless, at times the book seems a bit whimsical, but that may be a trait read in by the reader who cannot truly imagine someone just walking away form job, wife, friends, and all those THINGS that surround our lives. But whimsical or not, The Year of the Hare will have you laughing and gasping by turns, as the man and the hare live through adventures that spiral from normal to fantastically bizarre, from heart warming to life threatening. All this happens in less than 200 pages, in chapters that range from four pages to ten. The writing is as spare and clean as the lines of Scandinavian design.
Ken and I visited Finland briefly on our way from Sweden to St. Petersburg. We stayed overnight in the fort-town of Turku, mentioned in this book, and in charming Helsinki, where people thronged the sidewalks in summer sunshine, happy to emerge from the winter darkness. The train passed through dark woods and neat fields. Although we visited a Sami restaurant (when I was a child my school books called them Laplanders) in northern Sweden and dined on reindeer, I would still like to visit northern Finland. The author lives in the north, and much of the book takes place there.
While we get a good picture of the Finnish countryside in this book, and some snapshots of an unmistakably “foreign” culture, the thing that struck me most was the universality of reactions of the people to Vatanen and his hare. From suspicion of his motives, to off-handed “its his own business”, to officious requirements for the proper papers, to those who wanted to make a buck off the situation. I doubt that these reactions would vary much from country to country. Author Paasilinna portrays humanity in its many varieties–not just Finnish humanity.
One couple is frightened when he appears at their door, and calls the police. who talk like policemen always do.
“Okay,” the constables said. ”What’ve you been up to?”
“I asked them to call for a taxi, but they’ve called for you instead.”
“And am I right in thinking you’ve got a hare with you?”
….The hare peered nervously out of the basket, looking somehow guilty.
The constables gave each other a look, nodding, and one of them said: “Okay, sir; better come along with us. Hand over the basket.”
That bit of dialogue cracks me up. The humor in this book just sneaks up on you. Everything about the book is as gentle as the handling of the hare by his sympathetic rescurer.
Paasilinna is the author of 30 books, and it is a shame that he is not better known in America. The Year of the Hare was first published in Great Britain in 1995, and in America in 2006. The current Penguin edition, with an introduction by travel writer Pico Iyer, came out last year.
Pico Iyer, by the way, is the perfect person to write an introduction, as he burst into the public eye when he left a promising career with a major magazine and turned to travel and freelance writing. I love his capsule description of the book:
It sometimes feels–such is the runaway pace of the shaggy-hare subversion–that the whole novel is drunk, starting out relatively upright and conventional but soon keeling over, rubbing its forehead, and wondering what in the world is going to happen next.
Of the many lines in this book that I cherished, the last is one of the most delicious.
“…Vatanen is a man to be reckoned with.“
So is this book.
I am posting this on the date of the Chinese New Year, since this is the launch of the Year of the Rabbit–a very special year to me, since I was born in the Year of the Rabbit. Sometimes it is called the Year of the Hare. But hares are not rabbits!
All good things have to come to an end, and this is the last day of the January book contests and the Cambria Suites Giveaway. However, you have until 12:00 p.m. MST February 1 to leave a comment to win a copy of The Year of the Hare and to be entered in the Cambria Suites Giveaway. See contest rules.
If you like this review, please share it with your friends. I get lots of extra readers when you Stumble a post, or link to it on Facebook, and I would like many people to learn about this wonderful book.
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