With 75 per cent of the year over, when I look back on my reading I feel like a lazy slacker. That’s because so far this year, only I’ve read and reviewed about 10 books for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. Last year I was cranking them out right and left. This year, not so much. Sadly, I doubt I’ll exceed last year’s total of 21 books. Bummer. So much for my plan to read the most books and win the challenge’s reading contest.
The good news is despite my pathetic rate of participation I’m still reading some very good books about or set in Europe. I’ve also managed to discover a few European authors here and there that were completely off my radar until this just year. For example, until about a week ago, I’d never heard of the Finnish author Tuomas Kyrö. Or for that matter, ANY Finnish authors. But a few days after a trip to my public library I soon found myself reading his quirky, funny and quickly paced novel The Beggar and the Hare.
Kyrö’s novel follows the adventurous wanderings of Vatanescu, a blue-collar Romanian everyman who travels to Finland in hopes of making enough money to buy his young son a pair of top-notch soccer shoes. With few resources no official authorization to work abroad, Vatanescu has to enlist the services of former Russian security services agent turned human trafficker. Dumped on the streets of Helsinki and forced to panhandle to earn his keep, one day he flees his oppressive mobster boss with a handful of cash and embarks on a picaresque odyssey from one end of Finland to another. With a friendly rabbit as his loyal companion the two travelers encounter individuals from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Almost always humorous in nature, their interactions with foreign guest workers, politicians, upper class retirees, bureaucrats and criminals not only entertain, but also provide thoughtful social and political commentary on life in today’s Europe.
Not knowing what to expect when I grabbed this novel off the shelf, by the end I was left pleasantly surprised. The Beggar and the Hare feels fresh, funny and smart. Kudos to David McDuff for providing the novel’s English translation. At the end of the year, when I compile my “best of” lists, don’t be surprised if The Beggar and the Hare makes the cut.