Books

Snowbound Reads: 'The Year Of The Hare'

Cover, The Year of the Hare i i
Cover, The Year of the Hare

We made it through January ... barely. And in some parts of the country, a brief winter thaw brought a hint of spring.

But don't be fooled. It's February.

Personally, I think it's dangerous to even hope for spring until February is long gone. As an Irish Catholic New Yorker, my own personal marker is St. Patrick's Day. An endless parade of Catholic school kids marching up Fifth Avenue in a blizzard is a sorry sight indeed.

So I am not trying to be a downer, but really, we should be mentally preparing ourselves for the possibility of another snowstorm; the kind that keeps you from leaving the house for at least a day. What you need for a day like that is a nice fire (or a warm radiator), a cup of cocoa (or maybe a hot toddy), and of course, a good book.

And I've got one for you: The Year of the Hare, by Finnish author Arto Paasillina. This is escapism at its best. It's the story of a world-weary journalist who leaves his career, his unhappy marriage and and his city life behind to head off on a road trip across Finland with a hare as his only companion.

Though it's a winter read, the story begins on a lovely summer evening in rural Finland when the journalist and his photographer get into an argument while on assignment. They accidentally run over the hare with their car, and the journalist, Vatanen, chases after the injured animal as it runs into the woods.

Vatanen's companion takes off, leaving him alone on a country road with an injured hare. He heads for the nearest town with no goal other than to get some help for the poor animal. But gradually, he realizes there's no reason to go back to his old life, and he begins meandering about the countryside picking up odd jobs here and there. Sometimes this odd duo is met with distrust, but more often, the hare serves as a kind of magical talisman, evoking curiosity and sympathy from strangers. And as summer turns to fall, and then to winter, Vatanen has a hilarious string of escapades with a series of characters as wild as the hare himself.

This is a short book and a fast read. You can almost finish it in one sitting — say, while the neighbor takes the kids sledding. Or while the teenagers you hired to do your shoveling get the driveway cleared off. It's the kind of book you'll want to take into the bathtub with you. (A friend I lent it to did just that and, of course, she dropped it. At least it wasn't the Kindle version.) Really, it's just pure fun, like an adult fairy tale — a fantasy of what might happen if one day you just said, "Oh, the hell with it."

First published in 1975, The Year of The Hare has been translated into many languages, including English. But it was never widely distributed in this country until this year when Penguin re-released it in January. And yes, it is no accident that it was published just before the start of Chinese New Year — which this year just happens to celebrate ... the year of the rabbit.

So that's my offering for a book to read in a blizzard. Now we'd love to hear yours. What book would you recommend for a snowbound day? (And for those of you who were smart enough to head south, way south, we'll let you sneak in some ideas for a midwinter beach read... as long as you don't rub it in.)

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