Hedy Reviews “The Year of the Hare”
A journalist and a photographer were driving through the Finnish countryside on assignment and hit a young hare. The result was life-changing for the journalist Kaarlo Vatanen. He quits his job, leaves his wife, sells his possessions, and spends a year wandering the wilds of Finland with this hare as his boon companion. I had read about this book in a recent issue of the magazine “Bookmarks” and thought it sounded interesting, so proposed discussing it with the Library’s Contemporary Books Discussion groups. I was pleased that they were open to it because it’s foreign in more ways than one and definitely benefits from being discussed. I had read a good third of the book before I gave myself up to the fantastical philosophy of it and especially the humor of it. Vatanen is cruel sometimes. I did not approve. But then I realized it’s fiction, first of all, and it’s another culture and another time (at the height of the back to nature movement in the 1970s). I started reading with a different mindset and the story started getting funnier, more cynical, and more inventive. I went back and read over parts that had been “over my head” and, yes, found them funny too. “The Year of the Hare” is simple and deep at the same time.
The main theme could not be more serious: deciding what’s really important in life and following your heart. This is a very Finnish book. Our fragile connection with nature is examined, and nature seems to play an important and almost magical role in the national identity of Finns. They don’t seem to mind snow–it comes with the territory. There is a tension between individual freedom and government regulation and allusions to Finland’s traditional enmity with and distrust of Russia.
“The Year of the Hare” is recommended for anyone with a taste for the gently absurd, who enjoys the satire of Kurt Vonnegut, or admires the philosophy of Rousseau. It was selected for inclusion in UNESCO’s collection of representative works which led to its translation into English in 1995. It’s been adapted twice into feature films: by the Finns in 1977 and by the French in 2006.
“The Year of the Hare” by Arto Paasilinna 1975, translated by Herbert Lomas 1995, foreword by Pico Iyer 2010, 194 pages