Year of the Hare (Finland)

YearoftheHare by Arto Paasilinna

Fact One: I can’t say I’ve ever read a book by a Finnish author before. Fact Two: Mr. Paasilinna is the award-winning author of over 30 novels.

Conclusion: The American publishing industry is stupidly Ameri-centric. I hate that. This book was published in 1975 and is a Finnish and a French movie, but was only translated into English in 1995, thanks to a UNESCO grant.

Ok, so there’s this journalist riding to an assignment with his photographer and they hit a bunny with their car. The journalist makes the photographer stop the car, and he wanders off into the forest to find the little creature. The photographer gets tired of waiting and leaves him there. And just like that, Kaarlo Vatanen walks away from:

  • a wife he dislikes, a lady very much created by 1rst-world consumer culture
  • his stressful job at a major newspaper
  • his empty life in the big city of Helsinki

After finding a vet to set the hare’s broken leg, and advise him on the thing’s diet, Vatanen and his new best bunny caper around Finland having adventures. They run into a thieving crow and a scary brown polar bear (well, actually everything scares the hare). Vatanen has to outwit a bunch of humans who want to take the hare from him, including:

  • the police (does he have a license for that animal?)
  • a Swedish diplomat’s wife (but it’s so cuuuuuuuuute)
  • a crazy devotee of the old Norse religion who wants to sacrifice the bunny in the forest

At one point, Vatanen chases the polar bear across the border into the Soviet Union. Oops! Will he escape the Commies? What about the Capitalists? What about his grasping wife?

I enjoyed most of this book. The automatic assumptions of the character about people from different parts of Finland are fascinating and fresh if you’re not Scandinavian. Vatanen thinks Northerners are more like the original Finns while Southerners are sophisticated, and busier urbanites, for example.

At one point he ends up in a blizzard near the Arctic Circle and wanders into a stranger’s house, knowing they are bound by tradition to feed him and give him a place to sleep. Of course, the village doesn’t even have a store. A food truck comes twice a week instead.

WARNING: A crow and a bear *will* be harmed while reading this book.

Rating: Four fingers of Finlandia vodka! I would have given it 5 except for the incidents mentioned in the WARNING, above.

PS–The jacket describes the book as “funny”. I would say it’s more “witty”. The humor is dry rather than moist, but it’s there in the form of social criticism.

7 thoughts on “Year of the Hare (Finland)”

  1. Paasilinna was very popular in France. I do not know which style of books You love, but if You love historic books then there is one above others in Finland. Book’s name is:

    The Egyptian written by Mika Waltari. It tells from Egyptian, physician, who lived during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Well, this nothing, but the book tells about human people, friendship, love, war, fraud, man’s heart, loneliness etc. I have read it twice in French, once in Spanish and few times in Finnish during my long life.

  2. Excellent question. from 1975 to this day 3 * 1500 French books. I mean that I have 1500 books in French and I have read them all three times. Before 1975 maybe 1000. It is difficult to calculate, but this number is sure. The amount includes books written in Finnish and Spanish. Few English books, mainly Western by Zane Grey. Zane Grey is my favorite writer, because he describes “Old Wild Western” in that way that one is feeling to be at the spot. His books tells, Native Indians, love, horses, cowboys, marauders, loneliness, justice, injustice and in many cases women in struggling for life and love in Wild Western. His books are very difficult to stop reading until You are at the end.

    1. Zane Grey is my mother’s favorite writer also. My family lives in the American West–the Rocky Mountains of Idaho. Writers of the Purple Sage! Why French for you? And Spanish? I chose to study German because it was different from what was on offer in my high school and my family knew a ski instructor, who later went to the Olympics, whose mother was a first generation German-American and had been a war bride to the US. She taught German classes after school. Later I became interested in Hungarian because I was an exchange student to that country. I understand that Hungarian and Finnish both belong to the Finno-Ugric language branch and may have some similarities?

  3. Oh my gosh. Due to excellent writers like Zane grey and James Olivier Curwood, I am great lover of old western. I have always dreamed to purple sage.

    French due to it, that my children passed in French school in Helsinki and I had to be “better” than they. I have visited in Paris more than 30 times buying old French books and about 10 times in Brussels. To read those books once again it will take from me about ten years.

    Spanish, because I worked in my youth in Spain, at Las Palmas on the Canary Islands. It was there where I learned to speak Spanish.

    What comes to German, my wife has learned it during last ten years. Nowadays she is good in German, because she solves puzzles in German. She has ordered from Germany weekly magazine called “Freizeit Revue”. It is excellent magazine, I can say.

    Hungarian is indeed said to belong Finno-Ugric language. The fact is that when hearing Hungarian, we do not understand any word.

    You should read

    About me,

    to understand better my life.

    I am glad that You continued to answer to me again.

    Best regards. Matti.

    1. Dear Matti:

      Your azaleas are magnificent. I had a lot of fun with your photos of Finland! My mother’s family comes from Denmark a few generations back and we visited that country some years ago. Now I want to come to Finland, of course. My mother’s story is quite interesting. Her grandfather Teodor Janus was born in Denmark and lived in Frederickshaven, which was at that time called Flade.

      The family decided to go to America, but they couldn’t afford to go all at once. The stepfather went first, working and sending money back. Eight year old TJ was sent for and boarded a boat for New York, but when he got there, his stepfather was nowhere to be found. We don’t know why the immigration officials didn’t send him right back, but they didn’t. Maybe he hid from them.

      Anyway, TJ lived on the streets of New York for some time, learning English by sneaking into movie theaters. Eventually he was adopted by a New York family.

      When he turned 18, he bought a horse and rode West, having adventures. He founded a sawmill in Idaho and married and had some kids. He was in Salt Lake City buying supplies when a woman came up to him on the street and said, “Excuse me, but I think you are my long-lost brother.”

      This true family story is the reason I became a novelist. Lol

      Best regards also,
      PS–Are you on Facebook? I would like to continue our conversation, perhaps in a more private setting.

      1. Wow. You should start writing books. Your text is written in so interesting way that man cannot leave before the end.

        Well, I am not on Facebook, but if You want to write to me You have my email. I would love it. Summer is busy time, but man can find time if he wants.

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