I’ve got a new blog post up on ESPN.com about Aroldis Chapman and Matt Purke with some other AFL/instructional league notes.
Also, congratulations to all of my Cardinals-fan readers. It’s a little scary to think they pulled this off before any of their high-end pitching prospects reached the majors.
And finally, boardgame designer Reiner Knizia has a new solitaire puzzle/game app available called Lines of Gold for just $0.99. I’ve played it twice so far and find it surprisingly complex for a simple set of rules; you can play it quickly, but playing it well seems to take a lot of forethought and a little luck.
Arto Paasilinna’s The Year of the Hare is the most successful novel by Finnish author/poet, more a novella than a full-length novel, telling the story of a journalist who walks away from his life after his car hits and wounds a hare in the forest outside of Helsinki. He spends the next year wandering through the country, headed generally north, encountering eccentric locals and trying to reestablish the priorities in his life.
The protagonist, Charles Vatanen, is a disaffected if successful journalist with a shrewish wife and a boat he doesn’t need, so walking away from his life proves easier than it might for most men of his age. When the car in which he’s riding hits the hare and breaks its leg, he makes a splint for the hare and decides to carry it with him while nursing it back to health. His rejection of modern society and its rampant, empty consumerism leads him to take odd jobs in small towns in the Finnish countryside, including restoring a dilapidated cabin, where he ends up in an extended struggle with a bear who resents the human intrusion into his forest, a chase that goes on for an impossibly long period until Vatanen is arrested by friendly Soviet officials for illegally crossing the border. There’s also an alcohol-induced blackout, a peculiar lawyer, the illegal sale of sunken German munitions, and a wargame put on for the benefit of tourists that leads to a literal and figurative tug-of-war over the hare.
The problem with The Year of the Hare is that it’s more escapist fantasy than actual fable. A fable should have some point, whether it presents a metaphor for some aspect of life or mines humor from parody, but there’s no such cohesion in Paasilinna’s work here. We could interpret the scene in the church, where a priest sees the hare on the altar and ends up chasing it around the building with a pistol before inadvertently shooting himself, as a commentary on the decline of religion in Finland, but I couldn’t read that passage as more than slapstick, with a robed figure running through his own church shooting at a tiny rabbit and putting a bullet through his own foot as well as through the knee of the Christ figure in the apse. Vatanen isn’t running away from anything except the vapidity of modern urban life – something I think many readers can respect and understand regardless of wehre they live – but he’s not really running towards anything. It’s one thing to check out, but another to live as a vagrant without any kind of plan for survival once the cash runs out.
I can’t be certain of this but I believe the translation did Paasilinna no favors. Finnish is a Finno-Ugric language, like Hungarian (Magyar) and Estonian, completely unrelated to the Indo-European languages (including English) that dominate Europe, which might make the translation more difficult. Regardless, referring to a helicopter as a “warplane” or saying that, “The hare was rather nervous; the raven had evidently been molesting it while Vatanen was away working,” is like playing a piano that’s out of tune; either the translator doesn’t speak colloquial English, or Finnish is the weirdest language on earth.
Italo Calvino is probably the best fabulist I’ve come across, and while it’s not my favorite work of his, Marcovaldo: or the Seasons in the City is probably the best collection of fables I’ve found. The blurb for The Year of the Hare compares it to Life of Pi, but the latter book is far superior whether read as a fable or merely for entertainment, with plenty of room for differing interpretations of its meaning and its endnig. As for the comparison offered to Watership Down, putting a a bunny in your book does not make you Richard Adams.
Next up: George Gissing’s novel about struggling writers in late 1800s London, New Grub Street (also available free for the Kindle). Too bad Grub Street is long gone or else we might see an attempt to occupy it.