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2. Discuss Simecka's literary voice. Is it mature or naive? Intimate or detached? Tragic or comic? What are its strengths? Is it reminiscent of other literary voices? Whose?
3. David McLean of The Boston Book Review writes, "Simecka has not written an overtly political novel, and herein lies the strength of The Year of the Frog. An anticommunist diatribe would have been obvious and easy. Instead he writes of questions larger than dying ideologies.Young Milan learns of love and death and disappointment and infidelity against a backdrop of a totalitarian state. These are far riskier subjects for a writer than mere political cant, because they are subjects that are affected by, but ultimately transcend, ideology." Do Mr. McLean's observations seem accurate to you? What parts of the novel do they correspond to most directly? What are some of the issues Simecka writes of that are larger than dying ideologies?
4. Even though Simecka does not write a great deal about the political circumstances of Czechoslovakia, there is always a sense of government as a hovering presence. Describe the way in which Simecka accomplishes this. How does the state color and/or affect the lives of the characters -- Milan, Milan's mother, Tania, Tania's mother? How does it motivate their actions?
5. What troubles Milan throughout the novel? Do any of Simecka's other characters suffer from the sametroubles?
. Milan is deeply in love with Tania. What does Tania represent to Milan? With what qualities does he endow her? What does he seek in her arms? How does their relationship change and grow during the course of the novel?
7. When Tania and Robert consider having an affair, Milan is greatly shaken. He is terrified of losing Tania. When he finally has affair with Nora and confesses, Tania's response is understated."Do you want me to understand you? I do understand you, but frankly, I feel it does not concern me at all. I don't even know why you told me. The whole thing, from the beginning to the end, is your problem, not mine." Were you surprised by her answer? How would you have answered? How do you feel about Milan's infidelity? Was it necessary? Does it serve to propel him into his future? If so, how? What sort of role might infidelity play in life, in marriage?
8. Simecka writes,"How should I know what goes on inside a woman? Nature forms her in her image, and I just watch in astonishment. We look at women, build homes for them, play and sing for them, create household inventions for them, force them to work, divide them into states, and keep them in fear that one day we'll get tired and wreck it all. Because we mourn our own purposelessness!" What does Simecka mean by this? What other observations and insights about women does Simecka's character Milan express? How do you feel about Milan's understanding and treatment of women?
9. One of Milan's main jobs as an orderly in the hospital is to carry women from their beds to surgical tables. When he carries them to and from the operating theater, they place their arms around his neck and lay their heads against his shoulder. They confide their lives, admitting him to "the empire of women, the empire of suffering." Milan says,"The carrying of women was, apart from the poor salary, my only reward. Evanescent moments of intimacy took place like minor miracles." What might Milan mean by this? How does Milan see his role? How do the women perceive Milan? What is the significance of Milan carrying women?
10. There are many passages in The Year of the Frog where Simecka describes Milan's running. What does running mean to Milan? What significance does running have in this book? Is Milan's running a metaphor? If so, what might it be? Is Milan running from anything? Why might Milan feel the need to push his body past its limits?
11. Throughout the entire story, Milan's father is in prison. How does this fact color Milan's life? How does he come to terms with it? How does this fact affect you? What might Milan's relationship with his father be? Milan's mother is in emotional pain over her husband's imprisonment. What effect do her circumstances have on Milan? On the story? How do you relate to Milan's mother? Do you sympathize, empathize, and/or grow impatient with her pining?
12. From the beginning of this book, with the death of Mrs. Bohush, to the end of the book with the death of Tania and Milan's baby, death is a constant presence in The Year of the Frog. How does Milan deal with death? How does his relationship to death differ from the beginning of the novel to the end? What is Tania's relationship to death?
13. At the end of the novel, Milan and Tania's baby girl is born prematurely and dies. How does Milan react to this death? How does Tania? When Milan reaches the hospital's basement, he knows that his daughter has been put into the furnace fire. What might this mean and/or symbolize to him? What does it mean to burn dead babies in a hospital furnace?
14. "The first experience of the world is murderously gloomy," Milan says after a baby boy is born,"and though he will try to forget it all his life, one day he will find that it alone was the true one." Does this sentiment pervade the book? How do you feel about this statement? Is Milan essentially a pessimist or an optimist? What other opinions about life does Milan possess?
15. Milan asks many profound questions in this book, especially while he works in a hospital. When a young woman dies after an operation, he asks Mother Nature: "But tell me, why did you make her a woman? Why did you let her bleed once a month from the age of twelve? Why did you let her eat, dream, understand? And why the hell did you make her in the first place?" What is it about Milan that draws him to ask such questions? Why are we so often drawn to questions such as these? Are there any answers? How do you answer such questions? How does Milan finally answer them? How does he come to live with the answers? How do you?
16. "Goodness," says Milan,"is the antidote to nothingness, and while I strive for it, I'm safe." How does this idea of goodness direct Milan's life? How does it pervade the novel? What does this say about life?