on August 15, 1996
A briliantly written, delicately scatological tale of growing up in the hazy world of tyranny. To the young men of this novel - players on a traveling basketball team in Hungary in the 1950s - life can be broken down into two important quests:
1) The quest to subvert as many of the rules of a Communist state as possible.
2)The quest to get laid.
A very, very funny and sad and fascinatnig novel.
on February 12, 2002
Under the Frog is a novel about the oppression and evils of totalitarianism.
The book tracks the exploits of Pataki and Gyuri, members of Hungary's elite National Basketball team from the end of WW II to and through the Hungarian Uprising against the Soviet Union in the mid 1950's.
Ostensibly railway workers, the team travels the country, usually buck naked, in a specially constructed rail car, playing basketball, chasing girls and generally avoiding anything that looks like work while desperately striving to maintain their team membership, the only thing that keeps them from experiencing first hand the blight and depression that marks the plight of the common man in post war Hungary.
Biting, satirical, often hysterically funny, the book nevertheless searingly conveys the sense of deprivation and repression that gave rise to the uprising as well as the brutality and viciousness with which it was put down.
Fischer's international reputation was built on this novel, and deservedly so. It was one of the great novels of the Cold War era.
A brilliant, haunting, truly memorable book.
on February 12, 2001
A group of adolescent professional basketball players in soviet-controlled Hungary at the end of World War II. The pranks they play are different from what we expect nowadays. They are directed against the totalitarian regime, the all-encompassing graft, the lack of freedom. Some of these boys were soldiers towards the end of the war, first killing Russians, then killing Germans. There are no surprises left for them except freedom. Rather be a street sweeper in London than a big shot in Hungary. Is this book funny? Yes - with the blackest humor you are likely to see in a long time. Is it a satire? No - Every last sentence is the absolute truth, exactly as it happened so many years ago. I strongly suspect that this is the author's autobiography. He was there and has lived through it all.
In many ways, it is a very disturbing book. It shows that just a few people with machine guns can - and will - rule a whole country. It is a lesson to be remembered. Even when freedom finally comes, it only lasts a few days. Soviet tanks roll right over it.
Read it, think about it, remember it.
on October 19, 2000
"Under The Frog", shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize in 1992, is a marvelous first novel from Tibor Fischer. Crackling with a wicked humour that's uniquely his own, Fischer paints a none-too- pretty picture of life in 50s Hungary by following the antics and exploits of two national basketball players (Pataki and Gyuri) as they traipse around the country playing matches against amateur basketball teams to qualify for privileges and a better life. Through their eyes, we observe a Hungary struggling to come to terms with their new masters who fought on their side in WW2 against the Germans, the widespread petty corruption permeating their society, and the sordid lives of the helpless masses. Despite the seriousness of the novel's theme, Fischer maintains a delightfully light and humourous touch throughout, making its message all the more effective. The silliness of the pranks of our two basketball players only heightens our sense of the pitiful state of their existence. It's as if they need this conscious distraction to remind themselves they're alive (ie, it's the only way they know how to survive and keep their sanity). The novel's ending is heartrending as our two protagonists each find their own way forward. This is one of the best books of its kind I've read. It's funny and serious at the same time and Tibor Fischer is a terrific writer. I highly recommend it.
on August 9, 2000
From the dark days at the end of World War Two, through to perhaps even darker days at the time of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising. Under The Frog is a deeply moving whilst seriously funny book. Seen mainly through the eyes of a basketball playing, perenial under achiever. Under The Frog effectively shows how laughter can rise out of tradegy, and tradegy out of absurbity. Under the frog for me remains one the bitterst denouciations of a totalitarian regime and the evils that it can generate. All that the hero wishes for is freedom. Better a street sweeper in Stockholm than a general in Hungary. This is Fischer's first book and acts as an excellent introduction into the unique prose style. I would heartily recommend the equal excellent 'Thought Gang' and 'Don't buy this if your stupid'
on April 14, 2001
While the author, Tibor Fischer, was born in England, and only spent a brief period living in Hungary during the 1980's, he manages to capture the essence of Hungarians in his darkly comical novel about young, restless basketball players. The over-the-top actions of the narrator and his friends reflect the restrictive nature of Communist Hungary. Building up to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the book stays away from dry history and focuses on the more human aspects of being young. The title, "Under the Frog" is part of a colorful idiomatic Hungarian metaphor used in the book, and brings attention to the uniquely Hungarian nature of this work. It is a pleasant read, and is definitely not just for those of Hungarian origin or for those who like basketball.
on November 30, 1998
One of the most stunning debuts ever, I think. For the last three years, I must have read this book at least three or four times - every year! It has black humour; a painfully accurate portrayal of adolescence's overwhelming urges, i.e. sex; and scalpel sharp observations about the essential absurdity that was life in a Soviet satellite at the height of the Stalinist era.
The (picaresque?)Gyuri, the devil-may-care Pataki, the once debonair Elek, the urbane Jesuit Ladanyi, and Gyuri's one-true-love Jadwiga - all take shape and form with Fischer's elegant turns of phrase and understated characterization. All in all - a superb book - I've used it whenever I ran out of gift ideas, and so far, no one's complaining!
on May 25, 2000
A brilliant debut novel which, to coin a cliche, will make you laugh hysterically before making yoiu weep uncontrollably. Set in 1950's Hungary, it is the story of a young member a works basketball team and his search for love, sex and work avoidance. The joy and optimism of the peaceful anti-Soviet uprising is supplanted by the sadness of repression. A wonderful book you will read in a single sitting.
on January 22, 2001
Tibor Fischer (not to be confused with Tibor Kalman) is a horse-fellating genius. This book, while certainly no Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, is wonderful bedside reading, and is good for killing household pests, if you get the hardbound edition.
on May 22, 1998
Under the Frog is beautifully written. Fischer's dry wit achieves just the right balance between the dark and humourous themes of the novel. The story-telling is excellent! I've recommended the book to many of my friends and they all loved it.