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.