Under the Frog

Under the Frog

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Under the Frog follows the adventures of two young Hungarian basketball players through the turbulent years between the end of World War II and the anti-Soviet uprising of 1956. In this spirited indictment of totalitarianism, the two improbable heroes, Pataki and Gyuri, travel the length and breadth of Hungary in an epic quest for food, lodging, and female companionship.

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For that, and other reasons such as sometimes forced humor and a kind of droning, meandering style, it is quite obviously a first novel by someone.

And if you dont do the job properly, were willing to help; attempted suicide is punishable by death.

Between 17 and 24 I spent countless summer afternoons at the basketball playground but never thought about joining another team: perhaps I couldn't find any which had the right losing spirit I liked. A couple of weeks ago, I joined a basketball team based in Witney, Oxfordshire, UK together with a German workmate of mine, Martin. "Oh no I didn't have the time today, but I started reading a book about basketball". Being unable to walk and sit down for more than 10 minutes, meant that I had to take a day off from work and got plenty of time to read "Under the Frog" while lying on the bed. English-born Mr Fischer took a lot of his narrative ideas for this debut novel from his Hungarian parents who were both professional basketball players in their homecountry before leaving Hungary behind after the failure of the 1956 Revolution. Whereas the basketball related parts of the book are not always convincing with a few surreal matches won by the guys of the Locomotive team where the two protagonists Gyuri and Pataki play, there is much to save in "Under the Frog". I don't know if I will ever reread this book, but now that I'm done with it I feel like Tibor Fischer made a good job, delivering an interesting novel where basketball stands on the background being largely forgotten at the end.

The story takes place in communist Hungary, culminating with the uprising in October, 1956. The main character, Gyuri Fischer, is a basketball player on a traveling team in 1956. (The bldg still stands in current day Hungary, as a museum called the House of Terror where one can see the various implements and cells they used in torturing people.) Gyuri is not overly political, but does have a minor role in the uprising.

Now, having said all of this you will note that I do NOT like Salman Rushdie's books as I could not get past the first chapter. Also, this is a book about men, so if you are a man or a fan of SR, guess what, you will probably like it.

So quelle due o tre frasi che si trovavano nel libro di storia delle superiori: anzi, ora che ci penso, alla facoltà di Scienze Politiche della Cattolica, indirizzo storico, per qualche strano motivo l'argomento non veniva affrontato nemmeno di striscio: che abbia sbagliato io nella scelta dei libri facoltativi? Comunque a trentotto anni di scuse non ne ho proprio: se avessi voluto informarmi, a quest'ora avrei potuto benissimo farlo, e invece, mi scoccia ammetterlo, ma a parte qualche film ("I sogni muoiono all'alba" di Montanelli, proprio sui carri armati a Budapest, o "Le vite degli altri", bellissimo, o ancora il recente "Racconti dell'età dell'oro", rumeno) o qualche romanzo che sfiorava l'argomento, io sulla cortina di ferro non so un cazzo. Non sarà per caso che, come persona di sinistra, che non si è mai vergognata di essere di sinistra in Italia e una volta ha fatto addirittura tempo a votare Pci, l'argomento mi dà fastidio, mi scoccia affrontarlo, ammettere che per chi l'ha vissuto il comunismo non ha portato né pace né prosperità ma solo miseria, infelicità, grottesco, fame e persecuzioni? Che non si piange addosso, anzi tutto il contrario: il protagonista e i suoi amici si fanno un punto d'onore di ridere, sghignazzare anzi, di qualsiasi cosa accada a loro, alle loro famiglie, al loro paese: dalla seconda guerra mondiale agli arresti arbitrari, dalla fame alla burocrazia, dal servizio militare alle fabbriche dove tutti fingono di lavorare e si sopravvive solo leccando i piedi al potere, tutto è degno di una risata, di uno sberleffo, di una barzelletta: tutto pur di tenere alta la schiena, di non perdere la dignità, di non finire imbalsamati come i sottaceti di un'azzeccata metafora di metà romanzo su cosa vorrebbe uno Stato autoritario dai suoi cittadini (apprezzate il tono omerico e - schizofenicamente - non dimenticatevi la nostalgia dei cetrioli che fa da fil rouge a Goodbye Lenin): Lungo le pareti del negozio erano allineati enormi barattoli di cetriolini che spadroneggiavano di fronte a piccoli barattoli di conserva di albicocche. Era quello il genere di stagnazione organica, di stasi in bella vista, di obbedienza sottovetro che avrebbero voluto dai cittadini, immagazzinati nelle loro case come prodotti che non richiedono cure, impassibili di fronte alla lentezza della rete di distribuzione, docili su uno scaffale finché non c'è bisogno di loro. La tragedia non esce quasi mai dalle loro vite, è una donna di picche che appare, scompare e riappare in continuazione nelle vesti della morte, della galera, dell'ingiustizia, dell'ipocrisia di Stato, della burocrazia più idiota, sempre sommersa sotto il peso dello humour, uno humour nero, pesante, poco anglosassone ma efficacissimo e implacabile, che non risparmia nulla.

A novel by Tibor Fischer, Under the Frog tells an episodic, coming-of-age story about a young man named Gyuri growing up in a communist-oppressed Hungary between the years of 1944-1956. The gaps between the years become shorter and the chapters begin to divide themselves in months as the story picks up in intensity and the reader starts to suspect that the end is not going to be as comedic as the beginning and the middle of the novel. The beginning chapter starts on November 1955, the date close to the climax of the novel. There is a dramatic change, particularly in the last two chapters, as the separation in the story is marked only by a single month. Near the climax, and particularly in the last three chapters, the structure changes, becomes less episodic, yet similarly fragmented and more sharply marked by events and actions leading to serious consequences. November 1955 is a title of chapter that repeats itself in the beginning and near the climax of the novel for particular reasons. The first 1955 chapter introduces the characters and sets a light tone to Gyuris adventures and life. (20) Ironically, Jadwiga becomes the cornerstone for a transition in Gyuris life and the change of tone and pace of the novel. Her appearance in the beginning chapter is telling of Gyuris condition and the pace of the novel three quarters of the way through. The fragmentation does not take away the cohesiveness and tightness of the novel, but rather reinforces the quickening heartbeat and pace of Gyuris life during those two months. Conversely, the ending fragments correlate the pace of an eventful period with the pace of Gyuris anxieties, emotions, and feelings.

Much of the writing is grotesque, forcing the reader to smile a bit, and then feel guilty for thinking that the situation described is humorous. If you do start this book, make sure you read all the way to the end.

The bloody 1956 revolution, and his father's background, informed Fischer's debut novel Under the Frog, a Rabelaisian yarn about a Hungarian basketball player surviving Communism.

  • English

  • Fiction

  • Rating: 4.00
  • Pages: 250
  • Publish Date: November 3rd 2001 by Picador USA
  • Isbn10: 0312278713
  • Isbn13: 9780312278717