Paasilinna (L) and Lagerkvist (R) Paasilinna (L) and Lagerkvist (R)

Timely Reads Recognize New/Old Authors and Celebrate Spring

Wednesday, 26 April 2023 08:25

by Suzanne Moore, County Librarian

Arto Paasilinna (b. April 20, 1942) and Pär Lagerkvist (b. May 23, 1891) are two notable authors with books highlighted as part of Traphill Library’s Literary Birthdays Series. Paasilinna, a Finnish author, has works translated into twenty-seven different languages and Lagerkvist, a Swedish author, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1951.

Once again, random book selections from the ultimate to-read list 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, recognize ‘new’ authors that have stood the test of time. Amazingly, both books connect to Easter/spring theme with timely coincidence! In this article, I will share a little background about each author, and a brief summary of the books read by Traphill’s book club, The Reading Trap. I hope you will check into one or both of these books and join the conversations: every second Thursday at 6:00 p.m. in the branch library.

Paasilinna loosely based his book, The Year of the Hare, on personal experiences. It is classified as a dramedy (a comic-drama), and was made into a film (1977) called Vatanen’s Hare. Vatanen is a disillusioned journalist, as was Paasilinna before he became a novelist. The Year of the Hare tells the story of taking a break from life’s routine, actually changing everything and living in the moment.

One day while Vatanen and his co-worker are driving down a country road, a hare jumps in front of the car. Vatanen finds the hare wounded, and then decides to leave his job with the magazine and divorce his wife to live in the wild, caring for the hare. The whole situation is strange when you consider that under Vatanen’s nurturing care the wild hare becomes domesticated, while on the other hand, Vatanen becomes uncivilized as he leaves all behind to trek through the forest with the hare. In order to survive without an income, Vatanen sells his boat to a friend, so he will have money to live on while he is taking a break from life. In the real world, thirty-three year old Paasilinna sold his boat to help him finance the cost of publishing The Year of the Hare. This short novel, released in 1975, is full of madcap adventures and was an instant success. Paasilinna, as a novelist, becomes most prolific, writing another book every year for the next thirty-five years. His publishers say, "The annual Paasilinna is as much an element of the Finnish autumn as falling birch leaves.”

If reading The Year of the Hare in April sort of compliments Easter, a holiday with reference to a magical bunny, than Pär Lagerkvist’s novel Barabbas is even more important. The story takes place in Biblical days and is about a pardoned prisoner, named Barabbas. During Jewish Passover, it is custom to release a prisoner approved by the people’s choice. Scriptures say that when given a choice between Barabbas and Jesus, the crowd called for Jesus’s crucifixion and demanded Barabbas, a murderer to be let go.

Lagerkvist, raised in a traditional religious household, focused his writings on the moral aptitude of man. He says that he "had the good fortune to grow up in a home where the only books known were the Bible and the Book of Hymns." He expands on scriptural references (Matthew 27:15–26; Mark 15:6–15; Luke 23:18–24; and John 18:40) with a fictional account of those days from Barabbas’s point of view. Barabbas struggles with the concept of his release. It is ironic that he finds himself ‘literally’ chosen to live, while Jesus’s death offers eternal life for all who believe. He tries to return to the life he lived before his arrest but after seeing, the empty tomb where the crucified savior was placed he feels convicted and hopeful. As he wanders around, talking with other believers and followers, he continues to battle good and evil. Through it all, he hears a subliminal message “Love one another” and his conscience awakens to a peace he never knew.

There is film (released 1961) based on Lagerkvist’s book that stars Anthony Quinn in the title role. The library will be screening this film, as part of its Keeping it Reel - books to movie series, at Two Rivers Cinema - 1:00 p.m. on May 6. This is a free event so come out and enjoy an ‘oldie but goodie’ on the big screen. Copies of the book are available for checkout at the library.