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The Good Doctor [Paperback]

Damon Galgut
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 15.63
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Book Description

Dec 31 1969
Taut, spare, and compellingly readable, The Good Doctor is a brilliant literary high-wire act short enough to be devoured in one or two sittings. When Laurence Waters arrives at the small rural hospital in a South African homeland where Frank works, Frank is immediately suspicious. Everything about Laurence grates on Frank, from his smoking in their shared room, to his unfamiliar optimism about what the doctors can truly accomplish among the local population--but Laurence seems oblivious, immediately and repeatedly declaring Frank his friend despite the other's indifference. Frank originally came to the hospital to get his bearings after his wife left him for his best friend--but denial of the higher-level post he was promised when he came, and the disillusionment of working at a completely ineffectual hospital (it's always deserted, an entire wing closed off and gradually being looted of any reusable equipment lacks basic supplies), has hardened him into cynical apathy--which makes Laurence's optimism all the more irritating.
Laurence starts planning a campaign to "bring the hospital to the people," by running clinics in nearby villages. A group of soldiers have arrived in the village, reportedly looking for holes in the border where smuggling has become rampant. Then Laurence's African-American girlfriend Zanele, who has adopted an African name and dress, and who shares his political idealism (but not much actual intimacy, it seems) comes to visit, and Laurence and Frank host a party. During the flush of drunkenness the tensions between the staff melt away (the Cuban couple estranged by Frank having had an affair with the woman; the strained power relations between Frank and the other doctors and Tehogo, the young black African man who works as the caretaker and unlicensed nurse). But in the aftermath of the party this quickly melts away--especially when Frank goes to return the cassettes Tehogo lent him for the party, and accidentally discovers a cache of looted metal fittings from the hospital in Tehogo's room. Finally, Laurence talks Frank into spending an evening with Zanele while he is on duty--which ends in a bizarre encounter with an apartheid-era local despot and a furtive sexual union with Zanele. Frank is understandably relieved that a few days later an appointment to see his estranged wife to sign divorce papers allows him a chance to get away.
When Frank returns, Laurence meets him by telling him everything's changed. Laurence has ignored Frank's wish not to report Tehogo's theft, and in so doing has revealed that Frank was the one who discovered it. The clinic has become a huge public relations coup, raising awareness and goodwill toward the hospital though its capacities are no better than before, and everyone but Frank seems swept up in its success. And a secret Frank has been keeping from Laurence since their first day of friendship--the married poor black woman Frank has been sleeping with off and on for years, sometimes for money--comes to light, in a way, when the woman comes to Laurence at the end of the clinic to tell him she needs an abortion, and that it must be done at her home. Enjoying Laurence's discomfort with this moral dilemma, Frank does not help with the procedure and when he guiltily goes to check on the patient the next night, she and the shack where she lived, where he would go to meet her, are gone. Meanwhile Tehogo has more or less completely stopped coming in to work. Convinced that his affair's husband is somehow linked to the former despot and to a rash of recent robberies because of his white car, Frank tips the colonel leading the group of soldiers--a brutal Afrikaner under whom, as a conscript, Frank had been forced to help torture black informants before the end of apartheid--as to where he thinks the despot's encampment is hiding. Soon after, a soldier turns up with Tehogo, vitally wounded from a gunshot. As Frank tends to the wound obsessively to assuage his guilt at possibly having exposed Tehogo to the colonel, Laurence for once is completely apathetic--whether disgusted at Tehogo for being a thief and complicating his image of human perfectibility, or too distracted by the apparently more noble work of tomorrow's second village health clinic, which seems more than ever to Frank like lip service. Frank volunteers to move Tehogo to the bigger hospital where his life can assuredly be saved, but when he wakes in the morning Tehogo, the soldier guarding him, the bed to which he was handcuffed, and Laurence, who was on night duty, are all gone. Soon the soldiers leave town too, and as the stultifying silence of the pre-Laurence days returns, Frank is left to make some sense of the strange almost-year of the young doctor's presence.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker prize, Galgut's fifth novel, his first to be published in the U.S., explores postapartheid South Africa's ambiguous present, where deep-rooted social and political tensions threaten any shared dream for the future. Resigned to self-exile at an inadequate hospital in a desolate former "homeland," the disillusioned Dr. Frank Eloff befriends a new volunteer: fresh-faced Dr. Laurence Waters. Determined to revivify the rural hospital and more broadly, South Africa which has slipped into humdrum dysfunction, Laurence tests Frank's stifled sensibilities and challenges hospital director Dr. Ngema, who frequently quips that she is all for "change and innovation," even though she cannot abide confrontation with her own modest authority. The young doctor's idealism eventually collides with the old power structure, the "ex-tinpot dictator of the ex-homeland" called the Brigadier and his lawless band. Neither Laurence nor Frank wholly grasps the culture and poverty of the place in which they live and are supposed to serve; they remain strangers in their own country, "traveling in a different landscape" than the black South Africans. Frank grapples with his former passivity in the face of racism and torture in the military, while Laurence pulls recklessly toward a fantastic dream of utopia, and the two doctors are "twined together in a tension that unites." But "a rope doesn't know what its own purpose is," and South Africa seems ever capable of sliding back into the mistrust and political strife of the past. Like Graham Greene's work, this quiet, affecting novel will attract those haunted by the shadow of colonialism.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

"The first time I saw him I thought, he won't last," says former soldier and physician Frank Eloff, recalling his initial meeting with idealistic colleague Laurence Waters. This is the beginning of a precarious friendship between the two doctors at a rural desert hospital in postapartheid South Africa. Told from the perspective of the disillusioned Eloff, Galgut's fifth novel (but the first to be published in the U.S.) possesses the economy and pace of Hemingway and the lyrical grace of Graham Greene. A native of Pretoria, Galgut embraces the themes of allegiance, betrayal, deception, and self-deception in a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present. Eloff and Waters are polar opposites, and by uniting them, the author renders a quietly compelling examination of the chasms that exist in the new South Africa and the moral challenges that lie in apartheid's wake. This moody and memorable parable of the corruption of the flesh and spirit was shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars "...two different natures thrown into a box" Feb. 27 2014
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Frank Eloff and Laurence Waters, two doctors of different generations, different personalities, and opposing perspectives, are thrown together - sharing a room - when the younger, Laurence, joins the small medical team in a dilapidated hospital in a remote part of South Africa. Damon Galgut, award winning South African author, builds his intense and thought provoking novel around these two opposing characters, their different approaches to the challenges facing the hospital and its community, and, fundamentally, their contrasting beliefs of what is "good", moral and ethical. But, the author also goes beyond the personal level into a broader portrait of South Africa and its ongoing challenges and contradictions. The scenario, centred on a hospital in a remote part of the country and caught between past and present, is like an emblematic representation of a South African society that continues to struggles to build the new era while being incessantly drawn back into the lingering problems of the past.

Situated in the former capital of one of the apartheid-era "bantustans" (Homelands), the hospital appears to have since been forgotten by those in central government: everything is lacking including the patients. Villagers may not even realize that the hospital exists... Frank is going through a midlife crisis of sorts, "self-exiled", and resigned. And he feels stuck, "living in no man's land". And when the large shadows of a violent past come back to haunt him, Frank has to revisit his own behaviour, then and now. Laurence, by contrast, is the idealistic young medical volunteer, who believes he can change the world and pull the others along. His naiveté can be endearing but also dangerous when combined with his rigid moral convictions.
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4.0 out of 5 stars May not be perfect but I really enjoyed it Oct. 9 2013
By Aggie G
Format:Paperback
Reading the other reviews I must agree that the writer is very vague about location and the characters are not very well developed. But it's very enjoyable nonetheless. It feels like, as the reader, you just walk in and get a snapshot of these people's lives for a short time. There isn't much of an introduction and there isn't much of an ending. And nobody really explains why you're there, where you are, etc. But what you do get to see and find out about the characters make for a nice book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost very good Feb. 23 2004
Format:Hardcover
Galgut is great at setting a mood and establishing a sense of place. But where this book falls apart is in the area of characterization. The people in this book do things and I wasn't sure why and to be honest, I didn't really care. I guess this is a writer of great promise - all the reviews said so - but to me, The Good Doctor was just something I did instead of watching tv for a couple of evenings.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A great disappointment! Feb. 2 2004
Format:Paperback
I actually ordered two copies of the book (one for myself and another as a Christmas gift)in great anticipation of a great read. I was very disappointed with the scope of the novel. The author fails on many accounts. First, the reader does not get a great sense of location - quite ambigously depicted. Also, one does not get the sense despite the title of "doctor" that the author knows much about medicine. The character is not well developed and really doesn't give "a damn" about them. I wonder how this novel even got nominated for the Booker????
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars not sure where the "good" comes from Feb. 13 2011
Format:Paperback
Fortunately I borrowed this book from the library. It looked promising; having read other books about southern African countries, I expected to learn more. I, like the two previous reviewers, was disappointed in the book, although I read it to the end, hoping to come across a redeeming factor, bringing it all together, and making it a worthwhile read. Instead, I finished the book with a feeling of hopelessness and despair for the community circumscribed by it. The narrator's character was hollow, cold and lacking in humanity, in my opinion, and I couldn't really get a clear picture of him. Laurence had potential but again was incomplete in his characterization. The politics were confusing, often I couldn't figure out who was black, who was white, who was the enemy, etc etc. I kept hoping each successive page would clear up my confusion, but alas, not to be. The storyline regarding Maria was incomplete and left me frustrated and sad, that I did not get to know more about her.
Having said all that, it did have some merits. That is, it had to have had, because it did make an impression on me; impressing upon me the tragedy that is the past, present and possibly the future of South Africa. Had I known the way the book ended, I probably would not have read the book. I read for entertainment, learning, and positive enlightenment,but did not gain any of these from "The Good Doctor"
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