Set in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, in the 1980s, Martin Simecka’s stunning first novel, “The Year of the Frog, portrays a young man struggling to come to terms with his circumstances in the last days of communist dictatorship. Milan, the son of a former party official now imprisoned for dissident activities, is barred from the university despite the fact that he is a brilliant student and an extraordinary runner. Forced to work, Milan takes a series of menial jobs — first as a surgical orderly in a hospital, next as a clerk in an under-stocked hardware store, lastly as an assistant in a maternity hospital for both births and abortions — all of which serve to break open his life. Two great passions save him from the bleakness of his everyday existence: long-distance running, and his love for Tania, a beautiful university student from whom he seeks salvation and ultimately marries. “The Year of the Frog is a coming-of-age story, a romance, and a novel which poses important questions about life and death, about love and freedom, faithfulness and infidelity.