It takes little to motivate middle-aged journalist Kaarlo Vatanen to turn in his notepad for a new adventure. When he and a photographer hit a hare while driving on assignment, Vatanen alone follows the injured animal into the woods. This act changes the course of the Finn’s next 364 days and beyond, documented in Arto Paasilinna’s international bestseller The Year of the Hare, as he abruptly decides to leave his job, wife and home for whatever awaits him with his new, wild, recovering companion.
The comic novel moves across Finland and into Soviet territory as Vatanen and the hare take a series of odd jobs and slay a bear in the quest for—what? It’s never quite clear to us or to him, and that’s the joy of it. In lieu of a map, Vatanen chooses his path based on desire. He reflects at one point, while performing heavy labor on a forestry job in Kuhmo and living in a tent, that anyone could live this freely if only they had the good judgment to give up the way they’re currently residing. He calls his prior life “flabby,” in contrast to the unfussiness of the fresh air and quiet company he has chosen to keep after meeting the hare.
Paasilinna’s story is somehow plausible, despite the Lucy-and-Ethel situations the lead characters get themselves into, and it feels as though we, too, could so easily desert our responsibilities to others to follow what fulfills us. The glory of the outdoors is celebrated here, through each season, and we can nearly smell the early clover and meadow vetchling of the hare’s diet. Vatanen is who we want to be—minus the forest firefighting. And cow herding. And discovery of a dead granddad in a barn.
No, scratch that—Vatanen is who we yearn to be brave enough to become, as soon as we stop waiting for the timing to be right.