First published 1975, published December 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher
Kaarlo Vatanen, Finnish journalist, and his photographer are headed by to Helsinki late one day when they accidentally hit a hare, injuring it. Vatanen goes off in pursuit of the hare and when he doesn't quickly return, the photographer leaves without him. By the time the night has passed, Vatanen has made the decision that he will not be returning to life as he has known it.
"Early in his marriage his wife had single-mindedly set out to assemble a common domicile, a home. Their apartment had become an extravagant farrago of shallow and meretricious interior-decoration tips from women's magazines. A pseudo-radicalism governed the design, with huge posters and clumsy modular furniture. It was difficult to inhabit the rooms without injury; all the items were at odds. The home was distinctly reminiscent of Vatanen's marriage."Vatanen makes the decision that he is no longer content to just exist but really wants to enjoy his life. So, taking odd jobs to support himself, Vatanen and the hare, make their way across the country. Along the way, they meet an assortment of people, some very kind but so many more who are thoughtless and cruel. It's truly a sign of happiness that Vatanen finds in this new life that despite all of the terrible people that he meets and all of the bureaucracy that he encounters, the book is filled with humor and never feels heavy. The hare helps. Seriously. Vatanen is sleeping in a church when the minister comes in and finds the hare, who has left pellets, if you will, at the altar. Incensed, the minister begins chasing the hare all over the church, even begins firing a pistol at it, eventually shooting himself in the foot.
Vatanen is no saint. Besides walking out on his wife (okay, she was really no prize), when Vatanen volunteers to help scare the animals out of a forest and alert the humans in the path of a forest fire, he comes across a drunk and the two become so drunk they are unable to flee. Another time he is purposely cruel to a raven, fixing a can of meat so that the raven's head becomes trapped in the can.
"There was more raven's blood in the tin than meat, he knew, and there was enough cruelty in him to laugh out loud at his foul play."Publisher's Weekly calls it "baldly obvious in the way that parables often are." To some extent that is true and yet I was often surprised by the story. I'm a little surprised to find that this book is so popular world-wide, though. Perhaps it's the spare translation, but I felt the story was light and didn't pull me in; I found myself more curious to see what might happen next than particularly caring what happened to Vartanen himself.
Still it was an enjoyable journey and I'm glad that I read it as part of my effort to read more works by non-U.S. writers.