Jäniksen vuosi, by Arto Paasilinna, was published in Finland in 1975. It was translated into English by Herbert Lomas in 1995 as The Year of the Hare.
A photographer and a journalist are out on assignment. They’d been arguing. They’re both angry. The photographer is driving. The sun is in their eyes.
A young hare is practicing hopping. It leaps in front of a car. The photographer tries to stop in time, but the hare is hit. It staggers off into the woods.
The jouralist, whose name is Kaarlo Vatanen, gets out of the car and walks into the woods. He finds the hare. Its leg is broken. He makes a splint for the leg, holds the scared animal in his arms, sits down on the ground, and ignores the photographer’s calls to return to the car.
The photographer, still angry, drives off and leaves Vatanen in the woods. He checks into the hotel, gets drunk, and waits for Vatanen to catch up. He starts to worry, so he hires a taxi to take him back to the scene of the accident. Vatanen is nowhere to be found.
The photographer calls Vatanen’s wife and their magazine editor, but neither is terribly concerned. Vatanen will show up, eventually.
Vatanen has decided to drop out of society, and live in the Finnish wilderness, with the hare by his side. Suddenly, his wife and his editor are terribly concerned.
The foreword, by Pico Iyer, compares Vatanen to Gauguin and Thoreau.
The Year of the Hare is a comedy.
Vatanen finds a veterinarian who treats the hare’s injuries, and gives Vatanen a special permit to allow him to keep a wild hare, which isn’t strictly allowed. All through his journey, Vatanen meets people like the vet, who care more about doing what’s right than about following the rules.
As Vatanen travels northward through the wilderness, stopping into towns and villages, he encounters many friendly, eccentric people, like the District Superintendent who takes him fishing and shares his conspiracy theory that President Kekkonen has been replaced by a look-alike. He encounters a clergyman, who, thinking a wild animal is loose in the church, ends up shooting Jesus in the kneecap and himself in the foot, and then performs a wedding before being taken to the hospital. Not everyone he meets is friendly, however. Vatanen has many adventures and misadventures, all with the faithful hare by his side.
Vatanen lives off the money he made from selling his beloved boat. He also works manual labor jobs here and there, fighting fires, repairing lodge houses, or cutting trees. As he moves farther north, toward the Arctic Circle, he moves farther away from his former office job in Helsinki, both physically and mentally.
The Year of the Hare is a fun, anti-establishment romp. I enjoyed it a lot. As I read it, I wondered if there was a message in all this, or is it merely an episodic tale of adventure? Then, in the final pages, it all comes together.
- A book set in the wilderness