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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Year of the Hare, The
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on 19 July 2017
I read this book about three years ago and unlike many other books I've read, I've never forgotten the story. I adore hares and found the story so enchanting. The Howling Miller, another of Paasilinna's books was different and rather strange but very enjoyable.
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on 26 May 2017
great book very entertaining
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on 24 October 2017
A bit odd, but readable.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 November 2015
This brief novella describes the travels of a disillusioned journalist, Kaarlo Vatanen, and a hare around Finland, calling in, amongst other places, at Heinola, Nilsiä, Ranua, Posio, Rovaniemi, Sodankylä and Sompio, so that a map of the country might have been appropriate.

Vatanan and a colleague hit the young animal when they are driving together on an assignment. When Vatanen goes to find out how badly injured the hare is, his colleague drives off in disgust leaving him to look after the animal. Alexander Parsonage’s wonderful jacket design perfectly evokes the spirit of the book and must have attracted a significant number of readers.

From this slight beginning, the author spins a delightful story that introduces a range of memorable characters, almost all male, and a series of wonderful descriptions of Finnish forests and wildernesses, and Artic wastes as the two spend a year together. Originally written in 1975, this translation by Herbert Lomas was published in 1995. The language is spare and slightly dated, but not to the extent that its impact is lost. The book was chosen for the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works since it represents and reflects values of Finnish culture. The author was born in Kittila, 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and clearly loves the vast expanses of this region. This comes across very clearly in his writing. His detailed description of a forest fire and its affect on flora, fauna and humans is especially magnificent.

Vatanen and the author were both born in 1942 and share a number of similar characteristics. Whilst the events described are obviously fabulous, Vatanen comes across as a very authentic character, well equipped to make his way through swamps, restore a ruined house, escape a forest fire, track a bear and drink himself senseless. He is also selfish and lacks commitment but, In the course of the book, develops an emotional bond with the hare and becomes ferocious when anyone seeks to take the animal away, whatever their reasons. Throughout, animals feature strongly – the traditional reindeer, cows, a ravenous raven, a ferocious bear and hares.

The accident, a slight incident in itself, offers Vatanen the opportunity to re-examine his life and make the changes that he always wanted to – once he makes this decision he finds that ‘his senses are newly sharp, his food has a taste it never had before and he is alive as he has never been in his regular life.’ There is fascinating contrast between the magical events of the story and the detached manner in which Vatanen’s life proceeds at each of the stopping points of his journey, perhaps another example of the Finnish character.

Only in the Afterword, after the reader has followed Vatanen tracking a bear across the [then] USSR border and into the hands of the Soviet authorities, does the author offer a broader perspective on his protagonist’s life, and suggests that a hopeful resolution. Fortunately, the Finnish authorities seek Vatanen’s return to answer the 22 separate criminal offences described earlier in the book. Paasilinna encourages the reader to follow Vatanen’s example and step outside one’s comfort zone and determine what is really important before it is too late.

The novella is subdivided into 23 chapters each of which describes an event or place and which might have simply been individual evocative descriptions had the writing not very cleverly strung them together like a pearl necklace. This is partly because the author reins in the humour that might in other hands have flowed from the events described. In one of the most comic scenes, the author contrasts the violence and destruction of the forest fire with the actions of Vatanen and a distiller and drinker of moonshine liquor who take shelter in a river to escape the conflagration. A chapter about Urho Kekkonen, who served as Prime Minister and President between 1950-82, undoubtedly loses much of its humour when read by a reader unable to appreciate his significance in the post-war history and politics of Finland.

Comment is made on the back cover that ‘Paasilinna has been amusing Finns for thirty years and readers in twenty-five years’ and, whilst he certainly amused me he also left me reflecting about this book’s deeper layers. Finally, readers with an aversion to hare faeces should beware since they crop up in the most unlikely places.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 31 July 2017
This book tells of the peripatetic wanderings of disillusioned journalist, Vatanen, after he finds an injured hare on his return from an assignment and decides to keep it, wandering the highways and byways of Finland with the hare in tow. It has a lot of charm and humour, although towards the end things get slightly more violent and morose and the ending is such a let down it lost a star for that alone. On the whole however it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 June 2012
'An immature hare was trying its leaps in the middle of the road. Tipsy with summer, it perched on its hind legs, framed by the red sun.'
Moments later it's been hit by a couple of cynical middle-aged men driving past, and thus begins this novel, as one of the men, Vatanen, goes into the forest to find it. He chucks in his stressful city life and in the company of his hare- now tame- travels up through Finland to Lappland.
In short chapters, we follow their adventures; at first these are light and believable- collecting grasses, hanging out in a fishing cabin with a couple of policemen, helping at a fire. But things soon become dark and Kafkaesque and Vatanen himself is not the sunny animal-lover we imagined him as we see in his encounters with the raven and the bear.
I certainly can't agree with other reviewers who said they laughed out loud at the novel. I quite enjoyed it but would love to read an essay on what exactly the author was getting at!
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on 26 March 2009
Beautiful, jewel-like story which somehow creates its own unique world in just 135 generously spaced pages. Moves with great verve from prosaic realism at the start (as Vatanen abandons his bourgeois workaday life and moves increasingly into the wilderness of Finland's icy, forested hinterland) towards a kind of magic at the end as he literally breaks free - with one mighty bound - from the constraints of civilisation. Tempting to talk about 'magic realism' - the thought crossed my mind many times - but it all feels too well grounded, and maybe too funny, for that. Tempting also to call it a kind of fairy tale, but that would suggest a tweeness which the book never has.

The hare itself deserves a mention - a catalyst for Vatanen's change, perhaps a link between the real world and the mystic, but more than that, a real character in its own right for which we quickly share Vatanen's affection. The bear too, and the surprisingly wide cast of supporting characters, are brilliantly drawn.

Like no other book I've ever read, a wonderfully constructed modern fable.
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on 31 March 2014
I recently discovered the Finnish novelist Arto Paasilinna when I happened upon his novel "The Howling Miller", which I found to be very moving and mysterious. "The Year of the Hare" I found to be even more wonderful.

It is the tale of a man, who for various complicated reasons, finds himself protecting a wild hare as he has a series of misadventures. It is so movingly told that I found myself completely absorbed and desperately frightened that the poor hare would meet an unfortunate end, even more than I fretted for the fate of his somewhat flawed, but well meaning, guardian.

This is a novel that I long to re-read and re-read. A little gem.
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on 28 February 2011
A book about a man who tames a wild hare, or a deeper analogy for the stupidity of how we judge our own lives? I didn't hugely care how to interpret this book, it was just a pleasure to read from start to finish. Combining a story which twists and winds its way unpredictably through the Finnish landscape, and a combination of wit, fun, and some serious moments, it's easy to like the main character and his hare and you root for him all the way through.

It's quite hard to describe why this book is so good - it's just beautifully simple and almost innocent. Like a children's book but for adults (there is a modicum of adult-ish content, nothing much though) I suppose. As soon as I finished it I wanted to pick it up and start again.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 October 2015
This is one of the most unusual and enjoyable novels I've come across for a long time.
Set mostly in Lapland, with forays into Helsinki and even Soviet Russia (it was written as long ago as in 1975 during the cold war) the story concerns Vatanen, an unhappily married man who, driving along a country lane after a drinking spree with his friend, unwittingly and literally runs into a leveret, whom we meet after only four paragraphs, thus:

On the crest of a hillock, an immature hare was trying its leaps in the middle of the road. Tipsy with summer, it perched on its hind legs, framed by the red sun.

That could almost be Laurie Lee.
The author of this now famous, much-translated book thrusts us immediately into his tale, and even such a brief excerpt as the above tells you not only how deftly evocative the writing is, but also the dextrous sensitivity of the translation by Herbert Lomas.
Vatanen, an impulsive man in search of (as we discover) both adventure and an escape from his numbed life, runs off into the forest after the injured hare. From then on, his adventure is the lucky reader's too.
To disclose much more would be to give too much away.
What makes this delightful short yet incident-packed novel so unique is the lack of sentimentality, and the author's refusal ever to stoop to anthropomorphism in his portrayal of man and hare, or indeed any of the other creatures which cross his path - and, this being the wilds of Finland, plenty do.
The hare is frequently kept a shadowy figure, but we are ever aware of him hovering somewhere just out of view, or scampering around nearby, and when he/it is given centre-stage we welcome him as a loved and welcome friend. (I already loved hares, though I've seen very few, and now I love them even more.)
The denouement of this very re-readable tale is rather enigmatic, but that only adds to its fable-like quality. I hope more of Paasilinna's books are translated for us to read in English (Finnish being one of the tougher languages to master) and if they are as winning as this likably whimsical, often droll story of a man and his friendship with a young trusting hare, we are in for a treat.

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