One day whilst on vacation a middle-aged man named Kaarlo Vaatenen and his photographer buddy (who was driving) ran over a hare in the road. The hare was injured so Kaarlo got out to find it. His friend waited, called, looked around and finally before Kaarlo got back, left.
Kaarlo really didn’t want to go back to his wife in Helsinki and his job there as a reporter. So instead he put the hare under his arm and started walking north. First he he found a vet in a small town. Then he called a friend, sold his boat for the cash, and kept going. He’s seeking freedom and finds more than that.
The stories are what happens as Kaarlo wanders from job to job meeting people and having adventures. Kaarlo is a very decent man and there’s no quest involved, no destination. Kaarlo enjoys helping people so he does and when money comes his way he uses it judiciously. Yet, and I think this may be part of the point, Kaarlo might be considered strange and he is – but who are we to judge? He’s just living his own life, one day at time, the way he wants to live it.
“As I see it, Vatanen’s personal history and manner of conduct reveal him to be a true revolutionary, a true subversive, and therein lies the secret of his greatness. Watching Vatanen tenderly stroking the hare’s fur in his dismal cell, is if he were its dam, I was aware what human solidarity may entail.”
One curious part is where he stays with a man named Hannikainen who is slightly mad and is interested in the longevity and the skull of President Urho Kekkonen. Kekkonen was important in Finland’s politics from 1948 to 1981 serving as Speaker, Prime Minister, and then finally President for 25 years. He became almost a joke – Hannikainen is wondering if Kekkonen is really Kekkonen at this point – thinks he sees differences in the shape of the skull in the photos. (LOL!)
The novel has been translated into over a dozen languages including English, French, Hungarian, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, German, Slovenian and Estonian (a cult-classic in Finland and France). It is Paasilinna’s most widely read work and was included in 1994 in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works which funded the 1995 English translation by Herbert Lomas. It was adapted twice into feature films: a Finnish 1977 film called The Year of the Hare, and a 2006 French film directed by Marc Rivière called Le Lièvre de Vatanen.