Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinna

This creative and unusual work often reads like a fairy tale. Paasilinna is a writer born in Lapland, Finland. He has held various jobs, including woodcutter and agricultural labor. First published in Finland in 1981, the first American translation of the novel appeared in 2007.

Gunnar Huttunen is an odd individual with mood swings who may have blended in just fine in New York City or San Francisco, but in a remote area of Finland his peculiar nature becomes too much for the small village.

After World War II, Huttunen buys a mill on the Suukoski rapids. In the evening he howls like a wolf (at other times he also enjoys doing impressions of various animals). The dogs love the howling and join in, but his fellow residents do not find the situation funny. Huttunen becomes a symbol of the scary nonconformist that must not be tolerated. He is first banished to a mental hospital. After escaping, he lives like a hermit in the wilderness, showing up from time to time in the town to the residents' alarm.

One element that makes the story quite beautiful is Huttunen's love for an agricultural adviser who instructs him on vegetable gardening. Even when he is banished, the adviser finds ways to visit him or have letters secretly delivered that proclaim her love.

A review by Le Monde on the back cover reads, "The purity of this fable gives...[it] the charm and power of a narrative close to myth." There is something magical about this creation.


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