The Year of the Hare, by Arto Paasilinna
Arto Tapio Paasilinna (born 20 April 1942 in Kittilä) is an incredibly popular writer in Finland and the other Scandinavian countries. He a former journalist turned comic novelist, and one of the most successful novelists of Finland. Paasalinna's books have been translated into 27 languages and over seven million copies of his books have been sold worldwide. He has been claimed as "instrumental in generating the current level of interest in books from Finland".
He is an excellent writer with a wonderful talent for storytelling. Also, he has been very productive. As they say in Finland: "The annual Paasilinna is as much an element of the Finnish autumn as falling birch leaves."
So far he has published 35 novels and 7 non-fiction books. Unfortunately only two of his excellent novels have so far been translated into English.
- 1995 The Year of the Hare (Jäniksen vuosi, 1975)
- 2007 The Howling Miller (Ulvova mylläri, 1981)
- 1984 Businessman's Guide to the Finnish Sauna (Seitsemän saunahullua suomalaista, 1984)
- 1986 Illustrated Episodes in a 10,000-year Odyssey: A Businessman's Guide to Finnish History (Kymmenen tuhatta vuotta, 1986)
- 1998 Tales of the Snowfields: Finnish Skiing Through the Ages (Hankien tarinoita, 1998)
Finnish author Arto Paasilinna is a very productive author and very popular in Finland, and his books have been widely translated (only 2 into English, however). His novels are fast-paced, light and very humorous in style, and several are adventuresq stories with a satirical angle, modern fables almost. The Year of the Hare belongs to this category. It is a strange, lovely, imaginative novel about an ex-journalist who is disgusted by the emptiness and meaninglessness of modern consumer society, and therefore sets out on a quest for “authentic life”. Which - as we all know - is something you find deep in the Finnish backwoods?
The main character is Kaarlo Vatanen. While driving on a country road, he hits a hare. Leaving his car and a colleague sitting within, Vatanen goes chasing the hare, finds it, and in a fit of guilt he decides to take to the wilds of Finland with the hare for company.
And what a journey it is! There are strange adventures, unlikely events, and disasters aplenty in this book: arrest for possession of a hare; lots of heavy drinking; and a bear hunt; a chase into the Soviet Union, prison, and more. One wild and hilarious story follows another! The adventures show Vatanen and the hare much about the world they live in - about people's avarice, about lacking humaneness, hypocrisy, cruelty, the evils of bureaucracy, and how many merely exist rather than live. It is a cruel awakening for Vatanen.
This a fabulously weird novel – somewhat like the remarkable Aleksis Kivi novel Seven Brothers, but an adventure of the kind you would probably expect to find in a Latin American novel, written by authors such as García Márquez or Paulo Coelho, rather than in a Finnish novel written in a very low-key, minimalist, factual style. The Year of the Hare is a book about a middle aged man’s crisis, a tale of breaking lose, about freedom, about the importance of happiness, and a tale of a wonderful, different, original adventure. The book is a little slow in the start, but it very soon picks up. A light, very enjoyable and very interesting read!
The Howling Miller, by Arto Paasilinna
Finnish author Arto Paasilinna is a writer with a cult status in Finland, and with a huge following in the other Scandinavian countries as well. He is a teller of tales, a man who writes fables that resonate exceptionally well with strings deeply down in the Finnish and Scandinavian soul. Since the early 1970s, Paasilinna has written a novel a year, and his novels are eagerly awaited many months before they are published. His fictional heroes are exceptional, odd and strangely wonderful, and the tales Paasilinna tells about them are most often set in the deep forests of Finland, places where life passes slowly by and where – if anywhere – possibly very strange things could indeed happen.
When you read this book, you must place yourself in this setting. Rural, backwards, everybody knowing one another, closely knit communities, a little envy here and there. I am sure you know the kind of place I am talking about. Quiet, stagnant, a little bit back-waterish. And Finnish, with Finnish “sisu”; lots of will, determination, and perseverance. Brought to us warmly, with huge twinkles in the eyes, by the very humorous Arto Paasilinna.
The current tale takes place in the 1950s. The Howling Miller is a man. His name is Gunnar Huttunen. He has just recently moved to the village where he lives – he is a man with a mysterious past. A newcomer, no less, from somewhere south in Finland. He is large, strong, in many ways a very impressive Finn. A hard working man and a man of few words. So, as you see, in many ways a normal, straight Finn.
But there are some other sides to him as well. Gunnar Huttunen is a man in pain. He has a “little” problem with his temper. If he gets upset, he kind of loses it. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t really take much for him to lose it. And when he loses it, he can do anything. Like dump the oat brought to his mill in the river – sack after sack of it. Or run out with the weight in the local store and dump it in the village well. Or slice the village telephone wires. Stuff like that.
Another slight problem is that he is manic-depressive. Which is good when he is manic and works all hours of the day. Except when he visits people in the middle of the night. But that is kind of OK. It’s a little worse when he is depressed. A lot worse actually. When Gunnar Huttunen is depressed he feels an urge from deep within to howl. And so he does that. Howls like a wolf. Very load. For hours at a time, often during the wintery, cold nights. And often he is joined in his howling by the village dogs. When Gunnar Huttunen howls the whole village is awake.
In some respects life is good to Gunnar. He falls in love! For the first time! And his love loves him right back. Under her influence, he even considers stopping his howling and trying to control his temper. He doesn’t actually manage to do it, but he is thinking about it, pondering it. But while he is busy considering, the villagers have had enough, and have him declared insane and placed in a psychiatric hospital. No just any asylum, but one led by the craziest psychiatrist in the whole of Finland.
This is not the end of the story of the Howling Miller, rather the beginning of a new chapter in his complicated life, with new constraints and wonderful new opportunities.
The Howling Miller is one of the strangest stories you will ever read. It is strange, wild but still warm. But deep down it is serious too; a parable set in a mythic atmosphere. At its core it is a story of independence and tolerance. A tale of an individual who is different, who doesn’t fit neatly into the fold. Perhaps it is a story of the kind we need to hear every once in a while. I love it, and it’s quite possible you will too!