Tag-Archive for ◊ recollection ◊

Author:
• Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Arto Paasilinna, one of seven children – five sons and two daughters – was born in 1942 in Kittilä, Lapland in Finland to a civil servant father and a housewife mother. He studied at the General and Elementary School Line at the Lapland Folk Academy.

As a young teenager, Paasilinna worked in various jobs. One of them was as a farm labourer and a wood cutter. He says: “I was a boy of forests, working the land, timber, fishing, hunting, the whole culture that is found in my books”. Later he worked as a journalist, writer and editor for various newspapers and literary magazines.

In 1975, finding journalism “more superficial and meaningless”, he decided to dedicate his time to writing his novel, The Year Of The Hare. He sells his boat to finance the novel which becomes an instant success. From now on Paasilinna is able to live off his writing. He becomes the most acclaimed writer in Finland and in other Scandinavian countries. He is a prolific writer and millions of his books have been sold worldwide.

The Year Of The Hare, Arto Paasilinna’s favourite and most famous novel, has been translated into several languages. It was first published in Finnish in 1975 and in English in 1995. The Year Of The Hare was selected by the Unesco Collection of Representative Works which funded the English translation by Herbert Lomas. It has won three major international awards and was twice adapted for feature films: a Finnish film in 1977 named “Jäniksen vuosi” and a French version in 2006 called: “Le lièvre de Vatanen”.

The middle-aged Finnish journalist, Kaarlo Vatanen, and his middle-aged colleague photographer,“two dissatisfied, cynical men” are driving back to Helsinki from Heinola, after an assignment for their weekly magazine, when their car hits a leaping leveret. The photographer stops the car and Vatanen goes looking for the wounded animal in the nearby forest. He finds it with a broken left hind leg and holds him in his arms for comfort before nursing him.

In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit – cousin of the hare – has represented Hope for Chinese people for a long time and in the Chinese legend, the moon goddess, Chang’e, had a rabbit as a pet.

Vatanen, who is going through a middle-age crisis, instantly senses a bond between him and the leveret, who will become his inseparable companion. From this moment on, Vatanen finds himself magically connected with nature away from the strain, turbulence and rampant consumerism of urban life which he can no longer endure.

Vatanen feels free from all constraints for the first time in his life. He decides to sell his possessions, abandon his wife and his job after realizing that he neither cares for his unloving wife nor for his empty, boring job and travels across Finland’s wild nature away from civilization. Vatanen chooses the path of no return with no regrets, seeking an adventurous new life. A fascinating exchange occurs: the conventional Vatanen becomes an untamed man while the wild hare turns into a domesticated animal. In each others company, man and animal will help one another to heal their afflictions: psychological for one and physical for the other.

During this one year several surreal events happen, Vatanen lives doing odd jobs, repairing a hut or cutting logs in the forest as well as fighting a ferocious forest fire. He even gets engaged to Leila, an attractive young lawyer, while being drunk but once sober he surprisingly has no recollection of taking such an important decision. While living and working in the forest, Vatanen has to fight a ravenous, cheeky raven and a dangerous, vicious bear and follow it across the border to the Soviet Union which leads to his arrest by Russian soldiers accusing him of spying.

The satirical and cynical Year Of The Hare is a story of a dissatisfied, embittered man who takes his courage in hand by giving up everything to fulfill his dreams in the hope of attaining a serene life. It’s a quest for freedom and a journey of exciting adventures. Consequently, this tale unleashes the dream that lies deep inside each one of us: the search for the meaning of life and the yearning to lead a simple harmonious existence in peace with nature beyond the bounds.

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Author:
• Friday, June 14th, 2013

Milan Kundera was born in 1929 in Brno, the Czech Republic, from a middle class family. His father was a musicologist and a pianist. Milan learned to play the piano from his father and later studied musicology and musical composition.

Kundera finished secondary school in 1948. He then studied literature and aesthetics at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague for two terms, before transferring to the Film Academy to learn film direction and script writing. He graduated in 1952 and worked as lecturer in world literature at the Film Academy.

He joined the communist party in 1948 like several intellectual Czechoslovaks of the time. He was expelled from the party two years later, for having “unorthodox inclinations”. However he rejoined the party again in 1956 and was discharged once more in the seventies.

Kundera’s works were banned and he was dismissed from his teaching job by the Czechoslovak communist regime after taking part in the short-lived liberalisation movement of 1967-1968.

In 1975 Kundera and his wife left Czechoslovakia for France, where he was appointed guest professor at the University of Rennes. He was stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979 and lived in exile in France, becoming a French citizen in 1981. Presently he lives with his wife in Paris.

He has written novels, a short story collection, a poetry collection, essays and drama. In 1985 he received the Jerusalem Prize and in 1987 won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. In 2000 he was awarded the international Herder Prize and in 2007 he won the Czech State Literature Prize. He was made an honorary citizen of his own home town, Brno, in 2010 and received the Ovid Prize in 2011.

“Nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return”, says the long exiled Kundera at the beginning of his philosophical novel Ignorance. This sentence sets the main themes of the book which are: emigration, nostalgia, the longing for homecoming and the indifference that follows once back home as well as the deliberation on recollection and about human fallibility, creating a state of amnesia and ignorance. These are topics understandably close to the author’s heart, emigration being a first-hand experience for him.

Pregnant Irena, her husband Martin and their young daughter, leave their homeland, Czechoslovakia in 1969, one year after the Russian invasion, to seek refuge in Paris.

After twenty years of exile, Irena is now a mother of two daughters and a widow. With her new Swedish companion Gustaf, they decide to go back and live in the post-communist Czech Republic.
At Paris airport, while waiting for the Prague flight, her path crosses Josef – a short time heart-throb from adolescent days. He is also by coincidence, returning to his country for a brief visit after his wife’s death and twenty years of exile in Denmark.

The two uprooted protagonists, once back home after a long absence, are disillusioned to find their past forever gone. They don’t know how to pick up the threads. They come back to a completely transformed country from the one they remember, which no longer exists except in their own memories. They feel estranged in their native land among their compatriots and their families with whom they no longer have anything in common. They suffer through loss of identity as well as solitude for not fitting in with others.

Irena and Josef’ feel that their families and friends ignore them, as well as showing no interest in their lives in exile during the past twenty years. Irena, once in Prague, invites her friends and offers them an expensive French 1985 vintage Bordeaux wine but her friends who wanted “to teach (her) a lesson in patriotism” ask to drink beer instead. Irena believes that “rejecting the wine was rejecting her. She, as the person she is now, coming back after so many years…Either she succeeds in being among them as the person she has become, or else she won’t stay” because with their aloofness and disinterest in all she has been through abroad, they are erasing twenty years of her life.

Irena, on reflection, decides that her once beloved Prague of the old days is now completely alien to her. That is when she realises with assertion that she is more mature and wants to lead a life of her own and not stay in this city as it stands now. Her apprehension for the “Great Return” to the post-communist Czech Republic, occurs at the beginning of the book during her conversation with Parisian friend, Sylvie, who encourages her to go back home and reconnect with her past. After a short visit to Prague, Irena’s presentiment is proven to be correct – she no longer belongs to this new country.

Josef also feels the same as Irena and decides to go back to Denmark to continue living true to the memory of his deceased beloved wife. He was convinced after the disappointing visit to his older brother and his wife, followed by the visit to N., a Czech friend from forty years ago. To his surprise and sorrow, he discovers that neither his friend N. nor his wife are interested in his life and experiences during all his long years abroad. Josef discovers that even his mother tongue has become unfamiliar to his ears, as if it was “some unknown language”. He wonders what happened to Czech during these last two decades while he was away.

Just like Odysseus when he came back home after being tortured by his nostalgia and was eager to return to his beloved Ithaca after his long absence. To his great astonishment and affliction, he discovers “that his life, the very essence of his life, its centre, its treasure, lay outside Ithaca, in the twenty years of his wanderings. And this treasure he had lost and could retrieve only by telling about it”.

The several themes meditated, philosophically analysed at length and historically paralleled with Odysseus in the Odyssey, plus the inclusion of the Czech poet Jan Skacel, the Austrian composer and painter Arnold Schoenberg and the German writer,Thomas Mann, override the development of the one dimensional characters in the book. Kundera mentioned once during an interview, that the “unity” of a book can depend on its theme rather than on its plot.

The double erotic scenes at the end of the novel – between Irena and Josef on one side and her mother with Gustaf on the other, don’t enhance the story. They are gaudy and anticlimactic. They belittle the seriousness of the matters raised in the book, despite what the author says in one of his interviews that:“the erotic scene is the focus where all the themes of the story converge and where its deepest secrets are located”.

A very emotional, short, concentrated and thought provoking book. It analyses human weaknesses and therefore problems that touch many people today. These problems are unlikely to change because they have been with us since the dawn of time. Throughout the centuries, people have been pushed to emigration and homecoming with all that it entails.

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