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ATTENTION THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN A LONG AND UNNECESSARY PREAMBLEI used to play basketball in the same team for around 10 years in a row from childhood to the mid teens Those were glorious days My team was named Polisportiva Lame quite funny for English speaking ears, isn t it also known as Pol.Lame pollame meaning poultry in Italian and we were very consistent players Years passed by and we were always standing at the bottom of our league.Nevertheless, I was passionate or masochist e ATTENTION THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN A LONG AND UNNECESSARY PREAMBLEI used to play basketball in the same team for around 10 years in a row from childhood to the mid teens Those were glorious days My team was named Polisportiva Lame quite funny for English speaking ears, isn t it also known as Pol.Lame pollame meaning poultry in Italian and we were very consistent players Years passed by and we were always standing at the bottom of our league.Nevertheless, I was passionate or masochist enough reporting the scores of all our matches on a pocket calendar But I don t need to find out where one of those pocket calendars ended up for reporting that once we lost a match 196 30.Ok, ok our opponents in that match were the junior team of the then Euro dominating Virtus Bologna and it s true how 3 or 4 of them became first league players in the following years, but still we were dedicated losers overall Around 20 of our 30 points came from free throws and one of the five or six baskets we managed to get in 40 minutes came along with jubilant screams of I scored against Virtus , I scored against Virtus while towering Virtus players kept on dunking on the other side of the court I didn t scored a point in that match 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 When I lived in The Netherlands I tried to join a local team, The Eagles, but after a first enthusiastic account not so much happened Perhaps the fact that the training sessions were held in Dutch didn t really help.A couple of weeks ago, I joined a basketball team based in Witney, Oxfordshire, UK together with a German workmate of mine, Martin It turned out that the team changed its very self ironic name Witney Houstons into the wayserious Wolves I immediately understood how that losing spirit I was desperately looking for got lost, but had a terrific first training It has to be said how loving basketball in the UK is like loving cricket in Italy or rugby in the US a little perversion So have you watched any NBA video for inspiring you at this time Martin asked me while driving in the dark from Oxford to Witney Oh no I didn t have the time today, but I started reading a book about basketball Ah, really And what s the book about Oh well, I ve just begun it, but it s some fiction revolving around a basketball team Cool In Hungary In the 1950s I see And what s the title of the book Under the Frog I know It sounds awful Wellwho knows Perhaps it s a British way of saying or a specific play they have here Yeah.Actually Under the Frog stands for the polite short form of under the frog s arse at the bottom of the coal pit which, Wikipedia tells me, is a a Hungarian expression used to describe any situation when things can t seem to get any worse.And things got indeed worse on that night as my second training with the Wolves left me with a muscle strain in my left hamstring But there was a little stroke of luck in my injury Being unable to walk and sit down forthan 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.I liked this novel, but I cannot put it on my favourite shelf too 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 The last chapter is sublime, poignant and informative and all thorough the novel one can find both good humour and pretty trivial jokes, which somehow never trespass the coarseness line I read some reviews around and it seems like many readers found Fischer using uncommon terms and chiselled sentences, but I didn t have this impression At the contrary, I would have liked findingMagyar words and Hungarian touches here and there.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 I saw the point of this choice And the same could happen to me, now that my hamstring still pains an awful lot It is a good book in some respects but it is an extremely difficult read The writer is telling us the story for 250 pages Virtually no dialogue Metaphor after metaphor, he must have spent a month rehearsing one sentence So many times I found myself stuck having to re read because I had no idea what was going on or what time period we were in The chapter headings are worthless unless you are in the last chapter This is because he switches gears so many times in a chapter you can t remember It is a good book in some respects but it is an extremely difficult read The writer is telling us the story for 250 pages Virtually no dialogue Metaphor after metaphor, he must have spent a month rehearsing one sentence So many times I found myself stuck having to re read because I had no idea what was going on or what time period we were in The chapter headings are worthless unless you are in the last chapter This is because he switches gears so many times in a chapter you can t remember where you started or what direction you are in But it was research for my own up coming historical fiction and I did get a sense of what the times were like between 44 56 in Hungary I can safely say that mine is a much easier read and you won t be at all confused with the time period or the characters 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 It ws not required reading or research thank God Well, his comments are on the front cover of this book 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 This book was referred to me by a man on FB who I had chatted with Had I known that Fischer has become an apologist for Viktor Orban, I would have thought twice about buying this book, but I think it deserved its Booker shortlisting, as it is well written and very funny in places.The book is a picaresque journey though the Hungary of Fischer s parents from the end of the war to the 1956 revolution and its aftermath The main protagonist is Gyuri Fischer, who is a member of a successful basketball team whose success owes muchto his talented friend Pataki Had I known that Fischer has become an apologist for Viktor Orban, I would have thought twice about buying this book, but I think it deserved its Booker shortlisting, as it is well written and very funny in places.The book is a picaresque journey though the Hungary of Fischer s parents from the end of the war to the 1956 revolution and its aftermath The main protagonist is Gyuri Fischer, who is a member of a successful basketball team whose success owes muchto his talented friend Pataki Gyuri s opportunities are limited by his class, though his former bookmaker father is now broke.Fischer likes using unusual words for comic effect the words I looked up while reading this included lucubrate, mulierosity, pinguid, stultiloquence and valetudinarian Before traveling to Budapest, I wanted to read something that took place there This was good choice The story takes place in communist Hungary, culminating with the uprising in October, 1956 Hungary was invaded by Germany during WWII and then in 1948 was handed over to Russia The main character, Gyuri Fischer, is a basketball player on a traveling team in 1956 He, along with the other players, are on the payroll of the Hungarian Railway They are required to work very little and spend all t Before traveling to Budapest, I wanted to read something that took place there This was good choice The story takes place in communist Hungary, culminating with the uprising in October, 1956 Hungary was invaded by Germany during WWII and then in 1948 was handed over to Russia The main character, Gyuri Fischer, is a basketball player on a traveling team in 1956 He, along with the other players, are on the payroll of the Hungarian Railway They are required to work very little and spend all their time playing and practicing Gyuri s closest friend, Pataki, spends his time trying to upset the powers that be He is often pulled into communist headquarters to explain himself The headquarters were located at 60 Andrassy St, a space which was used by the Germans to torture prisoners during WWII It then was used by the Russians for the same purpose 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 The author, Tibor Fischer, is able to find the comedy in a situation At the same time, he also writes thoughtfully about the underlying current of unrest in Hungary at that time I believe the author is recognized for his humor Here he is able to capture both the humor and the horror I ve thought before that Brits and Hungarians share the same self deprecating humour Maybe it s because we are both island people, the only difference that in their case they are surrounded by land.But the joke has to be against oneself Beware using that same satire against others in some of Laurence Durrell s accounts of his time in Eastern Europe for example the sarcasm easily becomes a sneer.No such worries here Tibor Fischer s maliciously funny novel is based on the experiences of his pa I ve thought before that Brits and Hungarians share the same self deprecating humour Maybe it s because we are both island people, the only difference that in their case they are surrounded by land.But the joke has to be against oneself Beware using that same satire against others in some of Laurence Durrell s accounts of his time in Eastern Europe for example the sarcasm easily becomes a sneer.No such worries here Tibor Fischer s maliciously funny novel is based on the experiences of his parents, both professional basketball players, between 1944 and their flight from Hungary at the time of the 1956 uprising.The story is told in hilarious episodes, the sportsmen travelling naked in an appropriated railway carriage, a gargantuan eating contest, monumental inefficiency and skiving in factories where fulfilment of a Five Year plan is a matter of fantasy or stealing supplies from a rival enterprise.It s all outrageous, but completely plausible for anyone with the remotest experience of the utter incompetence and pettiness of daily existence under the Soviet imposed system.Life is brutal, harsh and arbitrary, and Fischer s unlikely heroes, Gyuri and Pataki, have to make the best of things in a country riven by hypocrisy and corruption, where ex Nazis turn into petty Communist dictators.And if the loathing for Russians almost topples into excess, with its jibe about slant eyed Mongols , it s excusable given what happened under their heel The title by the way refers to a Hungarian expression that the worst place to be is under a frog s arse down a coal mine.There s a rich array of slightly eccentric characters, each somehow orbiting in different circles outside the remit of authority, and a rich vocabulary of a writer relishing a language that was not that of his parents.In books and film there have been many moving and funny accounts of that extraordinary period before the collapse of Communism This is among the best and most enjoyable I finally finished this book after multiple stop and starts over the course of a year Why all the ADD Fischer has a knack for throwing in a side reference or vignette in a heartbeat, expounding on that reference for a few pages or , and then going back to the original topic at the last part of the chapter This makes for a temporally disjointed experience The story starts a few years before the Hungarian Revolution of 56, then Fischer moves to backtracks to the past, and then returns to I finally finished this book after multiple stop and starts over the course of a year Why all the ADD Fischer has a knack for throwing in a side reference or vignette in a heartbeat, expounding on that reference for a few pages or , and then going back to the original topic at the last part of the chapter This makes for a temporally disjointed experience The story starts a few years before the Hungarian Revolution of 56, then Fischer moves to backtracks to the past, and then returns to the present and then onward to the date of the Revolution The story follows a couple of main characters, Gyuri and Pataki, who are members of a national basketball team, following their travails at the end of and after World War II, through the rise of Communism, and up until crackdown of 56 The story intimately details Communist habits, work and personal, letting the reader feel the absurdity of this particular historical situation.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 The dark humor echoes a bit of what Kundera s or Hrabal s early Czech writing does for post 68 Czechoslovakia.If you do start this book, make sure you read all the way to the end The last 50 pages balances the first 200 and the book does not make much sense without a full read.The most amazing part of the book is the author s command of language at times convoluted and overly calculated, but mostly wry, humorous, satirical, witty, and original I ve never quite read anything like this, and I look forward to reading it again |EBOOK ⚉ Under The Frog ⚉ Tibor Fischer s hilarious first novel follows the adventures of two young Hungarian basketball players through the turbulent years between the end of World War II and the revolution ofIn 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 Another novel from the compendium of life under communism in Eastern Europe dealing with the nonsense and the banality of evil, propaganda and life under totalitarianism from the perspective of 20 something years old young men whose only wish is to escape the new regime after surviving the horrors of WW2 The way to make life tolerable with the constraints and the life jacket that totalitarianism brings is to not take it seriously and the novel deals with tragic situations in a humorous manner Another novel from the compendium of life under communism in Eastern Europe dealing with the nonsense and the banality of evil, propaganda and life under totalitarianism from the perspective of 20 something years old young men whose only wish is to escape the new regime after surviving the horrors of WW2 The way to make life tolerable with the constraints and the life jacket that totalitarianism brings is to not take it seriously and the novel deals with tragic situations in a humorous manner Two of my favourite themes young men being young men and putting two fingers up to tyranny in the same novel, what is there not to like 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 majority of the novel is in the form of a collection of sardonic, biting, and anecdotal clips of a life under the communist regime The humor has the ability to make the reader laugh, butoften gives the impression of a bitter lament expressing the absurdity of the human condition when immersed in this p 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 majority of the novel is in the form of a collection of sardonic, biting, and anecdotal clips of a life under the communist regime The humor has the ability to make the reader laugh, butoften gives the impression of a bitter lament expressing the absurdity of the human condition when immersed in this particular place Budapest at this particular time 1946 1956 While some clips of Gyuri s life are genuinely funny and honestly describe the travails of an adolescent s coming of age, there are also stories that emit an ominous sense of unease and foretell a sad ending, despite a sharp and sarcastic humor Slowly the stories merge in their commonality and carry over past occurrences and characters into the final installments The characters begin to abide by the dictates of their past behavior and their past actions start to reveal consequences The novel is in an everlasting transition and tightens the plot up as it approaches the end 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 plot begins to tighten on page 157, at the beginning of the chapter named November 1955 It is important to note the time and month separations between each chapter The beginning chapter starts on November 1955, the date close to the climax of the novel The story then shifts back to December 1944, October 1946, September 1948, January 1949, September 1949, August 1950, August 1952, and July 1954 Notice that in some cases there are gaps of almost up to two years After page 156, the gaps are as follows November 1955, September 1956, and 23rd October 1956 There is a dramatic change, particularly in the last two chapters, as the separation in the story is marked only by a single month There are very complex and intended reasons for the duality in the book s structure The beginning appears unfocused and confused The events separate themselves by large gaps in time and show consistency in the characters yet do not lead to any coherent conclusion The times are as mixed and confused as Gyuri and his direction and focus Near the climax, and particularly in the last three chapters, the structure changes, becomes less episodic, yet similarly fragmented andsharply marked by events and actions leading to serious consequences The change in Gyuri and his focus and commitment translates itself into the format of the novel This change also brings out aserious tone and prepares itself for an oncoming tragic end The effect of the ending enhances the drama and tragedy, because of the previous episodic chapters and the tightening of the plot as it approaches the end The transitions are sometimes tricky and subtle, as with the repetition of the beginning chapter November 1955 is a title of chapter that repeats itself in the beginning and near the climax of the novel for particular reasons This month marks Gyuri s introduction to Jadwiga The first 1955 chapter introduces the characters and sets a light tone to Gyuri s adventures and life He rides naked on the basketball team train, has eccentric and quirky friends, and there is poignant sarcasm in the quality of their basketball play, their opponents and their surroundings This chapter teases the attraction he will eventually form for Jadwiga H e was disappointed that Jadwiga didn t seemdelighted to meet him Jadwiga only scored a keep on file anyway and he hadpressing Swedish women to phone 20 Ironically, Jadwiga becomes the cornerstone for a transition in Gyuri s life and the change of tone and pace of the novel Her appearance in the beginning chapter is telling of Gyuri s condition and the pace of the novel three quarters of the way through So far, Gyuri is not ready for a change, and his youthful adventures and miseries will provide mirth and reflection As soon as he gains something worth losing, his life as well as the tone and format of the novel will change This chapter also reveals the type of regime the characters are under, as they worry about informers, and army recruiting It also reveals Gyuri s anxieties as he longs to escape and do even the most menial and meaningless of tasks, as long as they are in a different surrounding It is important to note that the comic effects of the beginning chapter outweigh the perceived severity of the characters lives, and sets the tone for the following chapters The fragments in the last chapters become sporadic and represent the many different aspects of the city, as well as the scattered and upset mindset of Gyuri In the sporadic episodes there is a certain fluidity denoting a natural and inevitable course Gyuri s realization of escape unleashes a torrent of tears that is as mixed and jumbled as his emotions The tumult of Gyuri s life translates itself in to the structure of the novel The beginning and middle of the novel provides a calm heartbeat mingled with reflection and comedic comment The fragments are prolonged and the breaks in chapters are yearly and denote certain aspects of growing up and occurring change The last three chapters becomefluid, yet very fragmented The fragmentation does not take away the cohesiveness and tightness of the novel, but rather reinforces the quickening heartbeat and pace of Gyuri s life during those two months Many significant events occur Gyuri yearns for Jadwiga, consummates his love and experiences the throngs of the revolution He feels anxiety of loss and fear of retaliation He faces the direct loss of his love, endures the assault of an army, leaves his home, and finally escapes These events are quick and loaded with emotion The novel recreates the pace of his feelings with the fragmentary structure and achieves the same anxiety within the reader For all that, the impact of the work would not be as resounding without the use of humor Fischer uses frequently throughout the novel.The humor plays a large role in the novel and the frequency of it serves as a great contrast to the tragic end The picaresque structure of the novel undergoes a change It is certainly episodic throughout, but the beginning merges the clips with the humor and serves to accent the humor and to illustrate the growth of Gyuri Conversely, the ending fragments correlate the pace of an eventful period with the pace of Gyuri s anxieties, emotions, and feelings This method certainly connects the reader with Gyuri through comedic identification at first, and then through cathartic empathy towards the ending Fischer succeeds in fleshing out Gyuri realistically through an efficient blend of dark, yet affectionate comedy, and gritty, harsh, yet not overbearing tragedy Because of Fischer s success, the audience is likely to share the abseiling of tears with the broken down, and defeated Gyuri, as he walks towards his freedom Under a frog s arse, down a coal mine the Hungarian phrase denoting the absolute nadir And even in that nation s long and fairly inglorious history the genius of Hungarian armies for getting wiped out is a frequent motif here , an apt description for the period this novel covers, from the bruising end of the Second World War up to freedom s brief flowering in 1956 The half despairing, half optimistic refrain This can t go on much longer is another running joke alas, it does And it s a Under a frog s arse, down a coal mine the Hungarian phrase denoting the absolute nadir And even in that nation s long and fairly inglorious history the genius of Hungarian armies for getting wiped out is a frequent motif here , an apt description for the period this novel covers, from the bruising end of the Second World War up to freedom s brief flowering in 1956 The half despairing, half optimistic refrain This can t go on much longer is another running joke alas, it does And it s always salutary, at a time when we re all getting quite justifiably pissed off with capitalism, to be reminded that yes, state communism somehow managed to be even worseboring,inhumane,generally shitty Against the background of this absurdist dystopia, a gaggle of young men loosely linked by a works basketball team try their best to engage in the usual activities of young men willying , getting one over on authority figures, and doing as little work as humanly possible It s somehow oddly gratifying to know that, even under the Soviet jackboot, schoolboys have exactly the same response to one of their number coming in with a briefcase rather than a bag I think I ll always prefer Fischer s subsequent couple of books, in which the same bleak wit was applied to increasingly bizarre situations, but this is still excellent work