PAPERBACK; 224 P. TRANS. DAVID MCDUFF SHORT BOOKS, 2015/2011 SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY
Vatanescu is striving for a better life, and with it a pair of football boots for his son – but his search has led him to collecting small change on the streets of Helsinki, and he needs something drastic to change his fortunes.
His lucky break comes when a fellow outcast – a hare with an injured paw – hops into his life. In rescuing the little creature from certain death, he finds not just a companion, but a source of unexpected inspiration and wisdom.
Together, the beggar and the hare embark on an adventure that is both funny and absurd. Theirs is a moving story about the meaning of friendship, with the power to change the way we see ourselves.
Picked as one of the Waterstones’ book club books for this spring, The Beggar and the Hare is a humorous road trip with two unlikely accomplices and a myriad of peculiar, yet identifiable characters. The author, Tuomas Kyrö, is a popular humorist writer in Finland and the story of The Beggar and the Hare is his modern retelling of the Finnish classic The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna. The original story follows a middle-aged journalist who one day gets enough of the rat race as a consequence to a road accident involving a hare. The man adopts the injured animal, leaves everything behind and heads out to the wilderness for a year.
The Beggar and the Hare follows a Romanian beggar Vatanescu who was recruited from his home village to work in the Nordic countries in order to buy his son a pair of football boots. However, when he arrives to Helsinki, Finland, it turns out that the work in question is organised begging in the corners of the city. Life as a beggar is tough and one day Vatanescu has enough and after a confrontation with his Russian boss, runs away. But in a strange country and with a very angry Russian criminal after him, Vatanescu is all alone. But when he runs into an injured city hare, he picks it for his travel companion, and together the two encounter several personalities, such as a first wave Chinese immigrant, a traveling magician, a patriotic pensioner, and many more. Despite the language barrier and his obscurity, the travelling beggar ends up becoming an online sensation with the entire country looking for him.
I had previously read some essays and short stories from Kyrö, so I knew what to expect from his style. And having read The Year of the Hare in school, I was interested to know how he’d update the classic. Turns out it works quite well. The Beggar and the Hare is funny, exciting and filled with random moments as well as sharp jabs at the current society. The book was originally published in the 2011 and it references some of the major changes in the Finnish political atmosphere – such as the landslide of votes for the right-wing populist True Finns party – which were so on point, but I also fear that they might not translate well for a reader outside of the culture. However, there is more to the book than the satire of Finland-centered issues as poverty and globalisation are known around the world. The Beggar and the Hare has kind of a road movie-ish type of structure spiced with a lot of cultural collisions between Romanian and Finnish customs. Overall, the books was an enjoyable and a very quick read, but in my opinion it could have been snarkier and bitten more deeply into few issues rather than lightly on several. I’d definitely recommend it to readers who have read The Year of the Hare, but it’s not mandatory. Any reader who enjoys absurd roadtrips or is interested in Finnish culture and society of today should be able to enjoy this book.
For more insights about the book, I’d recommend that you check out Tuomas Kyrö’s interview in the Waterstones blog. You can also read an extract from the book there.
If a beggar had a smile on his face it robbed him of credibility and showed up as reduced cash flow. If you made people feel pity and guilt, one got mercy. Mercy was money, mercy was the biggest thing in Protestant religion and life in social democracies. In the Nordic countries people had such a low pity threshold that their coins burned a hole in their pockets.
‘We help to make it easier for them,’ Yegor explained. ‘The donor ends up with a good conscience. I take seventy-five per cent, you get twenty-five.’