Arto Paasilinna — The Year of the Hare (1975)

Setting: Rural Finland

What it’s about: A Finnish journalist abandons his dreary city routine in favour of a Tom Sawyer like romp through the Finnish countryside.

The plot is very simple. Driving back from covering a story with his newspaper’s photographer, their car hits a hare. He rushes out the nurse it, and when the photographer gets tired of waiting and drives off, his meeting with the hare somehow triggers a change in his way of life. He refuses to come back to the city, instead adopting an itinerant life travelling north through Finland, encountering all manner of picturesque adventures with his hare on the way.

“The journalist sat on the edge of the ditch, holding the hare in his lap: he resembled an old woman with her knitting on her knees and lost in thought. The sound of the motor-car engine faded away. The sun set.

The journalist put the hare down on the grass patch. For a moment he was afraid the leveret would try to escape; but it huddled in the grass, and when he picked it up again, it showed no sign of fear at all.

‘So here we are,’ he said to the hare. ‘Left.’

That was the situation: he was sitting alone in the forest, in his jacket, on a summer evening.

Vatanen got to his feet, gazed at the sunset’s last redness through the forest trees, nodded to the hare. He looked towards the road but made no move that way. He picked up the hare up off the grass, put it tenderly in the side-pocket of his jacket, and left the allotment for the darkening forest.”

Why you should read it: If you work in an office, the transformation from office drone (‘The beauty of the Finnish summer evening is lost on them both’) to man of nature:

They drove through the lovely summer evening hunched, self-absorbed as two mindless crustaceans.”

You’ll like this if you liked: Into the Wild. This is a rocambolesque, Tom Sawyer-meets-Walden like adventure, with a mixture of the slapstick and depely poetic. What starts as a nonsense plot soon becomes addictive.

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