Saturday, December 26, 2009

The year of the hare - Arto Paasilinna

Vatanen, working for a local magazine in Helsinki, is not happy with his life. On returning from his work with his friend on the eventful day, his companion driving the vehicle, hits a hare on the highway. Vatanen, gets off and goes after the injured animal, finds him and nurse him. Angry colleague, drives off, in despair, not finding his friend. Instead of returning to the hotel and continue the life, Vatanen decides to travel in the opposite direction with the hare. Not particularly happy with his work - "The magazine succeeded, but not by transmitting information -- by diluting it, muffling its significance, cooking it into chatty entertainment. What a profession ! " - ,not happy with the family ( the wife reacts to the news with the usual "tell him, he will have it on his return", type) and his inability to be a successful in social order ( the only luxury he has is the boat on mortgage), he decided to give up all. Thus starts the eventful new  open, carefree, exploratory life.

He sets off with the hare through out the country side, selling the only possession he has ( the boat) for money. Meeting various people, doing odd jobs for various government agencies, living in the wilderness, often with the hare as the only company.  He and the hare gets the curious attention of people he meet. He also ended up in the Police Station on complaint by a resident, only to be befriending the Superintend, and ending up in the task force fighting the forest fire. He travels up north staying at various villages and the forest, doing assignment, living closure to the nature. The novel ends with a vengeful chase by Vatanen on a wild bear, across the snow which lasted days. During the successful chase, he crosses the border to the Soviet Union, and ends up getting arrested after the military Officer congratulating him on his triumph over the bear. He was charged for spying into USSR, and was deported to Finland on charges of 22 various counts.

Typical to many of the urban breed, Vatanen  is also fed up with the life he is leading, and the accident was the turning point in his life. As it happens to many, there are moments in life, that alter the direction forever. Vatanen, instead of choosing to return to the familiar, decided to pursue what is in the offing, exploring the new ways of life in the new open world.

The catalyst, of course, was the hare. The journey now begin, through the interiors of Finland , away from the civilization, at a pace set by himself, meeting various people, experiencing the reaction of varied kind ( the police station on a complaint by a resident, the taxi driver helping with the food for the animal, the official who gives him the authorisation letter to retain the hare on, the retired army man at the fishing, the chase of the bear across the borders), doing odd jobs at different parts of the country, travelling to the northern Finland with hare in his company. Usually content, the one time when the vengeance took over, he went on a hot pursuit of the bear across the borders.

There is a subtle humour through the narrative. At certain places, it become bit loud and obvious ( the bishop who shoot himself on the leg trying to kill the hare, etc). Vatanen is also get enough sympathy from the readers. Short

Beautifully written book. You may not call this a literary masterpiece, but a superbly told story make you want to read more of these kind.


The Year of the Hare

Arto Paasilinna ( Translated from Finnish by Herbert Lomas)

Peter Owen Publications

135 Pages

Rs 360

Further Read : Complete-Review

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