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The Good Doctorby Damon Galgut
Synopses & Reviews
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 (its 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 Laurences 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 Laurences 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 Tehogos 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 everythings changed. Laurence has ignored Franks wish not to report Tehogos 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 Laurences 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 affairs 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 despots 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 tomorrows 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 doctors presence.
When Laurence Waters arrives at his rural hospital posting in a former homeland of the new South Africa, Frank, a fellow doctor there, is instantly suspicious. Laurence is everything Frank is not - young, optimistic, and full of new schemes. The two become uneasy friends, while the rest of the meagre staff in the deserted hospital view Laurence with a mixture of awe and mistrust.
The tired, ghostly town beyond the hospital is also coping with new arrivals, and the return of old faces. The Brigadier, a self-fashioned dictator from apartheid days, is rumoured to be still alive. And down at Mama's Place, the town's only watering hole, a group of soldiers have moved in with their malign commandant, a man Frank has met before and is keen to avoid for his own dark reasons. Laurence wants to help - but in a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present, his ill-starred idealism cannot last.
A finalist for the Man Booker Prize and Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the region of Africa, The Good Doctor is a taut, intense tale of the dashed hopes of the post apartheid era and the small betrayals that doom a friendship. It has been greeted with enthusiastic interest around the world and assures Damon Galgut's place as a major international talent. When Laurence Waters arrives at his new post at a deserted rural hospital, staff physician Frank Eloff is instantly suspicious. Laurence is everything Frank is not—young, optimistic, and full of big ideas. The whole town is beset with new arrivals and the return of old faces. Frank reestablishes a liaison with a woman, one that will have unexpected consequences. A self-made dictator from apartheid days is rumored to be active in cross-border smuggling, and a group of soldiers has moved in to track him, led by a man from Frank's own dark past. Laurence sees only possibilities—but in a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present, his ill-starred idealism cannot last.
A taut, intense tale of the dashed hopes of the post-apartheid era and the small betrayals that doom a friendship, "The Good Doctor" is an extraordinary parable of the corruption of the flesh and spirit. 224 pp
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