Set in Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s, during the waning years of Communist rule, Martin M. Simecka's startlingly original first novel, The Year of the Frog, shows a young man struggling to understand the circumstances of his life. Simecka, born in Bratislava in 1957, is the son of a prominent Czechoslovak intellectual who was imprisoned for his dissident beliefs. Though not overtly political, Simecka's novel is unabashedly autobiographical. First published in installments in the underground Czechoslovak press, it was reissued in one volume after the lifting of restrictions. Written in engagingly simple, unadorned prose, The Year of the Frog follows the fortunes of Milan, a young intellectual forbidden to attend college because of his father's political activities. Unable to pursue his studies and under surveillance by the authorities, who frequently trail him in their yellow-and-white Zhiguli cars, Milan takes a succession of menial jobs, first as a surgical orderly in a hospital, where he witnesses death on a regular basis, and then as a clerk in a perpetually understocked hardware store, and then again in a hospital, this time as an assistant in a maternity ward. After Milan's father is arrested, his mother, a diabetic, spends her days pining for her husband and listening to the Voice of America over Viennese radio. Once, following a trip to Poland, Milan himself is briefly detained by the police. But the grimness of Milan's day-to-day existence cannot blunt his ever-agile, ever-questioning intellect, nor can it diminish the joy he derives from his two great passions: long-distance running, which he pursues with almost Zen-like dedication through the streets of Bratislava and thesurrounding countryside, and Tania, a university student with whom he falls in love and with whom he discovers that the world, even one as circumscribed as his own Communist-controlled one, is full of possibilities. Milan's story is told with the exuberance and innocence of youth. But the book's deceptively naive style does not mask its earnest seriousness. The Year of the Frog gives American readers a compelling and accurate view of life at a crucial time in Czechoslovakia's history; more important, it offers a vital and absorbing portrait of the coming of age of a young man unafraid to pose important questions about love and freedom, life and death.