The Rabbit Back Literature Society, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, translated by Lola M. Rogers, (Thomas Dunne Books), 352 pages, release date January 20, 2015
The Rabbit Back Literature Society is one of those books that breaks the boundaries of genre in a delightful way. It’s a mix of literary novel, mystery, and dark comedy, with a substantial dose of magical realism thrown in as well.
Set in the small Finnish town of Rabbit Back, the novel focuses on a group of nine writers, the literature society of the title, who were hand-chosen as children to join a writer’s workshop run by a famous Finnish author, Laura White. Decades later, White disappears in an indoor snow storm—one of the bits of magical realism—as a tenth member is about to be added to the society.
This tenth member of the society is Ella Amanda Milana—an aspiring literary scholar currently working as a substitute teacher in her hometown of Rabbit Back. Once White disappears, Milana becomes obsessed with uncovering the carefully hidden history of the society. At first, she hopes to be able to use her findings as a doctoral dissertation, but the situation becomes increasingly complex as she meets the other society members. What happened to the first tenth member of the society? Why are the society members so careful to avoid one another? What demands did Laura White place upon the children she was mentoring? Why (and how) are literary classics in the Rabbit Back library rewriting themselves as they wait upon shelves?
Discovering the answers to these and other questions takes the reader on a dark, but oddly delightful, journey that explores the nature of writers—observers eager to gather pieces of others’ lives that they can reshape into their own stories. Give yourself the pleasure of reading this novel, both for its unexpectedness and its depth.