The Good Doctor

( 2 )

Overview

"When Laurence Waters arrives at his new post at a deserted rural hospital, staff physician Frank Eloff is instantly suspicious. Laurence is young, optimistic, and full of big ideas - everything Frank, hardened and embittered by years of irrelevancy and disappointment in the "bush," is not. Frank watches with a mixture of bemusement and irritation a Laurence sets about trying to bring the hospital and its diffident staff back to life." The whole town is beset with new arrivals and the return of old faces. Frank reestablishes a secret romantic
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Overview

"When Laurence Waters arrives at his new post at a deserted rural hospital, staff physician Frank Eloff is instantly suspicious. Laurence is young, optimistic, and full of big ideas - everything Frank, hardened and embittered by years of irrelevancy and disappointment in the "bush," is not. Frank watches with a mixture of bemusement and irritation a Laurence sets about trying to bring the hospital and its diffident staff back to life." The whole town is beset with new arrivals and the return of old faces. Frank reestablishes a secret romantic liaison with a local woman, one that will have unexpected consequences for him, for her, and even for Laurence. The Brigadier, an African who shaped himself into a local dictator during apartheid days, is rumored to be back in town, and active in cross-border smuggling. A group of soldiers has moved in to track him, and to close the borders, 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. When the final denouement comes, who will make the cynical choice, and who the moral one?

Shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In this gorgeously written, compellingly eerie new novel, Damon Galut offers a visceral portrait of South Africa at the crossroads of change. Young, idealistic Dr. Laurence Waters arrives at his new post in a rural hospital in South Africa only to find a dusty postcard of the past. He requested the assignment with hopes that he might make a difference in the desolate outpost, but the hospital is running on fumes: Any serious ailment is exported to larger city facilities, there is barely enough funding for staff, and the facility is too far off the beaten path to be affected by change. Laurence shares a room with the head doctor, Frank Eloff, a burned-out, disaffected hulk of a man who is both resentful of his young roommate's optimism and moved by his awkward charm. Laurence determinedly forms a friendship with his elder colleague, against all of Frank's natural instincts. But Laurence's eager desire to affect change and his firm belief in his moral duty as a doctor are at direct odds with the changing regime and the violence that prevails outside the hospital; and although Frank is temporarily buoyed by his young charge's enthusiasm, the hopes of both men come crashing down, as the harsh reality of their surroundings quashes their falsely idyllic dreams. Inviting comparisons to the work of Graham Greene and J. M. Coetzee, Galut's novel vividly captures the voice of a stranger in a strange land -- an outsider fleeing his own life who struggles to understand his adopted cultural surroundings and, in so doing, succeeds only in wreaking disaster.
The New Yorker
Like most elements of this slim, absorbing novel set in post-apartheid South Africa, the title is ambiguous. The narrator, Frank, is a doctor, but, to judge from our first impression, not a good one. After the collapse of his marriage, he has retreated to a hospital in a rural backwater. His uneventful existence is disturbed by the arrival of Laurence, a young doctor eager to help the poor black inhabitants of the surrounding villages. The two men develop an uneasy friendship; Frank is both repelled and fascinated by this younger version of himself. The novel shrewdly introduces thriller-like devices—a secret mistress, a male nurse with underworld ties—that put the two doctors to the test. In spare, declarative prose, Galgut spins a brisk and bracing story, but he’s also in pursuit of something murkier: the double-edged nature of doing good in a land where "the past has only just happened."
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. Agent, Valerie Duff/Toby Mundy. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
South Africa, after apartheid, is a little known place to most Americans and the differences between the big cities and the rural areas are still dramatic. In this novel, two doctors come to a small, ill-equipped rural hospital for different reasons. Frank is escaping his divorce and his famous doctor father, and Laurence is idealistically seeking meaning in his life. Forced to share a room, the two men become involved in each other's lives, much to the chagrin of Frank. As there is no way to avoid the political atmosphere of the area, the reader sees a part of Africa rarely written about as the terrors of the past must be compensated for by the present. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2003, Grove, 215p., Ages 17 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Library Journal
Galgut (A Sinless Season) presents a series of contrasts: youth and age, idealism and pessimism, integrity and degeneration, black and white-even life and death, though this final duality is highly ironic. Set in the author's native South Africa just after apartheid, this is the story of two doctors who work in a decaying rural hospital. Laurence tries to improve the health and education of the local villagers, while the narrator, Frank, tries to pass time dispassionately, too absorbed in the hurts of his past to reach out to others. For all his efforts, however, he can't help being affected by Laurence's vitality. As Galgut shows, even one's own conscience can be misleading in this bitterly suspicious and wounded country. An intense work comparable to those of J.M. Coetzee in its evocative depictions of its characters' inner lives and the uneasy human relations caused by apartheid, this is recommended for academic libraries and for public libraries that collect literary fiction.-Amy Ford, St. Mary's Cty. Memorial Lib., Lexington Park, MD Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
One of six finalists for the ManBooker 2003, originally scheduled to appear here in March 2004, but pushed forward: a highly accomplished but unmemorable post-apartheid story in which a young doctor's best intentions end badly. Set in a poor and remote part of South Africa that was formerly one of the notorious "homelands," the tale is narrated by Frank Eloff, a doctor at a small and underused hospital. Frank is like the protagonists of so many stories about anomie and alienation, and the similarity makes the novel, despite its setting, more an intellectual cliché than an original. The hospital is headed by Dr. Ruth Ngema, who, having been promised a better posting, doesn't want to jeopardize her chances by forcing improvements. Which means that there's no response when thieves steal plumbing fixtures, and beds and buildings deteriorate. Frank, there because his wife ran off with his best friend and medical partner, takes a masochistic pleasure in living in this remote hellhole, where even the nearest town is dying. He also has a black mistress, Maria, who runs a dilapidated craft stall on the main road and is curiously reticent about the husband she claims to have. Accustomed to the tedium, Frank isn't happy when he learns he'll be sharing his room with newcomer Laurence Waters, a young doctor come to perform a year of community service. Laurence, an idealist bent on doing well, soon convinces Dr. Ngema, but not Frank, whose own ideals were lost while serving in the apartheid army, to set up clinics in the villages. The clinics are a huge success, but good intentions can't compete with the realities of crime and corruption as the army arrives and sets up camp in the town. The soldiersare ostensibly there to track drug dealers, check corruption, and patrol the border for illegal crossings, but their activities seem increasingly more malevolent. A hospital worker is mysteriously wounded and nearly dies, and, on a night when Laurence is on duty, both he and his patient are abducted. Frank, too, soon finds his life dramatically changing. Carefully, admirably crafted but, overall, unaffecting. Agent: Tony Peake
From the Publisher
“Galgut’s prose, its gentle rhythms and straightforward sentences edging toward revelation, is utterly seductive and suspenseful.... Galgut is a master of psychological tension.… Tragic and brilliant.…”
Globe and Mail

“Damon Galgut has written a lovely, lethal, disturbing novel.”
The Guardian (U.K.)

“Exquisite.… It is a testament to Galgut’ s skill that this mostly quiet novel can leave such a lasting sense of urgency. And shame. That, after all, is what great fiction is meant to do.”
Denver Post

“Possesses the economy and pace of Hemingway and the lyrical grace of Graham Greene.…”
Booklist

“A truly remarkable novel, steeped in contemporary history, yet at the same time transcending it. I was enthralled by its intensity and the immediacy of every small twist and turn of the story.”
–André Brink

“A tremendous brave book. The author never flinches, and makes his hero’s dark logic compelling and hair-rising. . . . Galgut writes like a man on a long fast night drive through bad places.… It’ s brilliant.”
–Dermot Healy

“From the first page the reader is gripped by a rare twinning of convictions: that it is strange and new, and that the imaginative rendering is of the highest quality.… There are traces of J. M. Coetzee and Graham Greene but Damon Galgut is a true original.”
–Geoff Dyer

“If there is a posterity, The Good Doctor will be seen as one of the great literary triumphs of South Africa’s transition, a novel that is in every way the equal of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.… [Galgut is] a novelist of great and growing power.”
–Rian Malan

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802141699
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/10/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 215
  • Sales rank: 685,904
  • Product dimensions: 5.44 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Published now for the first time in Canada, Damon Galgut is a playwright and author of several novels and short story collections. His debut novel, A Sinless Season, published when he was just seventeen, was a literary success. His other novels include The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs, winner of the 1992 CNA Award, A Small Circle of Beings, and The Quarry, which was made into a feature film that won the award for Best Film at the 1998 Montreal Film Festival. His plays include Echoes of Angers, Party for Mother, Alive and Kicking, and The Green’s Keeper.

Damon Galgut was born in Pretoria in 1963. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

The first time I saw him I thought, he won’t last.

I was sitting in the office in the late afternoon and he appeared suddenly in the doorway, carrying a suitcase in one hand and wearing plain clothes – jeans and a brown shirt – with his white coat on top. He looked young and lost and a bit bewildered, but that wasn’t why I thought what I did. It was because of something else, something I could see in his face.

He said, ‘Hello…? Is this the hospital?’

His voice was unexpectedly deep for somebody so tall and thin.

‘Come in,’ I said. ‘Put down your bag.’

He came in, but he didn’t put down the bag. He held it close while he looked around at the pink walls, the empty chairs, the dusty desk in the corner, the frail plants wilting in their pots. I could see that he thought there’d been some kind of mistake. I felt sorry for him.

‘I’m Frank Eloff,’ I said.

‘I’m Laurence Waters.’

‘I know.’

‘You know...?’

He seemed amazed that we should be expecting him, though he’d been sending faxes for days already, announcing his arrival.

‘We’re sharing a room,’ I told him. ‘Let me take you over.’

The room was in a separate wing. We had to cross an open space of ground, close to the parking lot. When he came in he must have walked this way, but now he looked at the path through the long grass, the ragged trees overhead dropping their burden of leaves, as if he’d never seen them before.

We went down the long passage to the room. I’d lived and slept alone in here until today. Two beds, a cupboard, a small carpet, a print on one wall, a mirror, a green sofa, a low coffee table made of synthetic wood, a lamp. It was all basic standard issue. The few occupied rooms all looked the same, as in some featureless bleak hotel. The only trace of individuality was in the configuration of the furniture, but I’d never bothered to shift mine around till two days ago, when an extra bed had been brought in. I also hadn’t added anything. There was no personality in the ugly, austere furniture; against this neutral backdrop, even a piece of cloth would have been revealing.

‘You can take that bed,’ I said. ‘There’s space in the cupboard. The bathroom’s through that door.’

‘Oh. Yes. Okay.’ But he still didn’t put down his bag.

I’d only heard two weeks before that I would have to share a room. Dr Ngema had called me in. I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t refuse. And in the days that followed I came around, in spite of myself, to the idea of sharing. It might not be so bad. We might get on well, it might be good to have company, my life here could be pleasantly different. So in a way I started looking forward with curiosity to this change. And before he arrived I did a few things to make him welcome. I put the new bed under the window and made it up with fresh linen. I cleared a few shelves in the cupboard. I swept and cleaned, which is something I don’t do very often.

But room was ugly and bare. And Laurence Waters didn’t look to me like the person I’d pictured in my head. I now that he was standing here I could see, through his eyes, how invisible that effort was. The don’t know what I’d imagined, but it wasn’t this bland, biscuit-coloured young man, almost a boy still, who was at last putting his suitcase down.

He took his glasses off and rubbed them on his sleeve. He put them on again and said wearily, ‘I don’t understand.’

‘What?’

‘This whole place.’

‘The hospital?’

‘Not just the hospital. I mean...’ He waved a hand to indicate the world out there. He meant the town outside the hospital walls.

‘You asked to come here.’

‘But I didn’t know that it would be like this. Why?’ he said with sudden intensity. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘We can talk about it later. But I’m on duty now, I have to go back to the office.’

‘I must see Dr Ngema,’ he said abruptly. ‘She’s expecting me.’

‘Don’t worry about that now. You can do it in the morning. No hurry.’

‘What should I do now?’

‘Whatever you like. Unpack, settle in. Or come and sit with me. I’ll be finished in a couple of hours.’

I left him alone and went back. He was shocked and depressed. I understood that; I’d felt it myself when I first arrived. You came expecting one thing and were met by something else completely.

You came expecting a busy modern hospital – rural maybe, and small, but full of activity – in a town where things were happening. This was the capital of what used to be one of the homelands, so whatever the morality of the politics that gave rise to it, you expected a place full of administration and movement, people coming and going. And when you’d turned off the main route to the border and were coming in on the one minor road that led here, it might still look – when you saw the place from a distance – like what you’d expected. There was the main street, leading to the centre where the fountain and the statue stood, the shop-fronts and pavements and streetlights, and all the buildings beyond. It looked neat and calibrated and exact. Not a bad place to be.

And then you arrived and you saw. Maybe the first clue was a disturbing detail; a crack that ran through an otherwise pristine wall, or a set of broken windows in an office you passed. Or the fact that the fountain was dry and full of old sand at the bottom. And you slowed down, looking around you with vague anxiety, and suddenly it all came into clear focus. The weeds in the joints of the pavements and bricks, the grass growing at places in the street, the fused lamps and the empty shops behind their blank glass fronts and the mildew and damp and blistered paint and the marks of rain on every surface and the slow tumbling down of solid structures, sometimes grain by grain, sometimes in pieces. And you were not sure any more of where you were.

And there were no people. That was the last thing you noticed, though you realized then that it was the first thing to give you that uneasy hollow feeling: the place was deserted. There was, yes, a car cruising slowly down a back road, an official uniform or two ambling along a pavement, and maybe a figure slouching on a footpath through an overgrown plot of land, but mostly the space was empty. Uninhabited. No human chaos, no movement.

A ghost town.

‘It’s like something terrible happened here,’ Laurence said. ‘That’ s how it feels.’

Ja, but the opposite is true. Nothing has ever happened here. Nothing ever will. That’s the problem.’

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

The first time I saw him I thought, he won't last.

I was sitting in the office in the late afternoon and he appeared suddenly in the doorway, carrying a suitcase in one hand and wearing plain clothes – jeans and a brown shirt – with his white coat on top. He looked young and lost and a bit bewildered, but that wasn't why I thought what I did. It was because of something else, something I could see in his face.

He said, ‘Hello…? Is this the hospital?'

His voice was unexpectedly deep for somebody so tall and thin.

‘Come in,' I said. ‘Put down your bag.'

He came in, but he didn't put down the bag. He held it close while he looked around at the pink walls, the empty chairs, the dusty desk in the corner, the frail plants wilting in their pots. I could see that he thought there'd been some kind of mistake. I felt sorry for him.

‘I'm Frank Eloff,' I said.

‘I'm Laurence Waters.'

‘I know.'

‘You know...?'

He seemed amazed that we should be expecting him, though he'd been sending faxes for days already, announcing his arrival.

‘We're sharing a room,' I told him. ‘Let me take you over.'

The room was in a separate wing. We had to cross an open space of ground, close to the parking lot. When he came in he must have walked this way, but now he looked at the path through the long grass, the ragged trees overhead dropping their burden of leaves, as if he'd never seen them before.

We went down the long passage to the room. I'd lived and slept alone in here until today. Two beds, a cupboard, a small carpet, a print on one wall, amirror, a green sofa, a low coffee table made of synthetic wood, a lamp. It was all basic standard issue. The few occupied rooms all looked the same, as in some featureless bleak hotel. The only trace of individuality was in the configuration of the furniture, but I'd never bothered to shift mine around till two days ago, when an extra bed had been brought in. I also hadn't added anything. There was no personality in the ugly, austere furniture; against this neutral backdrop, even a piece of cloth would have been revealing.

‘You can take that bed,' I said. ‘There's space in the cupboard. The bathroom's through that door.'

‘Oh. Yes. Okay.' But he still didn't put down his bag.

I'd only heard two weeks before that I would have to share a room. Dr Ngema had called me in. I wasn't happy, but I didn't refuse. And in the days that followed I came around, in spite of myself, to the idea of sharing. It might not be so bad. We might get on well, it might be good to have company, my life here could be pleasantly different. So in a way I started looking forward with curiosity to this change. And before he arrived I did a few things to make him welcome. I put the new bed under the window and made it up with fresh linen. I cleared a few shelves in the cupboard. I swept and cleaned, which is something I don't do very often.

But room was ugly and bare. And Laurence Waters didn't look to me like the person I'd pictured in my head. I now that he was standing here I could see, through his eyes, how invisible that effort was. The don't know what I'd imagined, but it wasn't this bland, biscuit-coloured young man, almost a boy still, who was at last putting his suitcase down.

He took his glasses off and rubbed them on his sleeve. He put them on again and said wearily, ‘I don't understand.'

‘What?'

‘This whole place.'

‘The hospital?'

‘Not just the hospital. I mean...' He waved a hand to indicate the world out there. He meant the town outside the hospital walls.

‘You asked to come here.'

‘But I didn't know that it would be like this. Why?' he said with sudden intensity. ‘I don't understand.'

‘We can talk about it later. But I'm on duty now, I have to go back to the office.'

‘I must see Dr Ngema,' he said abruptly. ‘She's expecting me.'

‘Don't worry about that now. You can do it in the morning. No hurry.'

‘What should I do now?'

‘Whatever you like. Unpack, settle in. Or come and sit with me. I'll be finished in a couple of hours.'

I left him alone and went back. He was shocked and depressed. I understood that; I'd felt it myself when I first arrived. You came expecting one thing and were met by something else completely.

You came expecting a busy modern hospital – rural maybe, and small, but full of activity – in a town where things were happening. This was the capital of what used to be one of the homelands, so whatever the morality of the politics that gave rise to it, you expected a place full of administration and movement, people coming and going. And when you'd turned off the main route to the border and were coming in on the one minor road that led here, it might still look – when you saw the place from a distance – like what you'd expected. There was the main street, leading to the centre where the fountain and the statue stood, the shop-fronts and pavements and streetlights, and all the buildings beyond. It looked neat and calibrated and exact. Not a bad place to be.

And then you arrived and you saw. Maybe the first clue was a disturbing detail; a crack that ran through an otherwise pristine wall, or a set of broken windows in an office you passed. Or the fact that the fountain was dry and full of old sand at the bottom. And you slowed down, looking around you with vague anxiety, and suddenly it all came into clear focus. The weeds in the joints of the pavements and bricks, the grass growing at places in the street, the fused lamps and the empty shops behind their blank glass fronts and the mildew and damp and blistered paint and the marks of rain on every surface and the slow tumbling down of solid structures, sometimes grain by grain, sometimes in pieces. And you were not sure any more of where you were.

And there were no people. That was the last thing you noticed, though you realized then that it was the first thing to give you that uneasy hollow feeling: the place was deserted. There was, yes, a car cruising slowly down a back road, an official uniform or two ambling along a pavement, and maybe a figure slouching on a footpath through an overgrown plot of land, but mostly the space was empty. Uninhabited. No human chaos, no movement.

A ghost town.

‘It's like something terrible happened here,' Laurence said. ‘That's how it feels.'

Ja, but the opposite is true. Nothing has ever happened here. Nothing ever will. That's the problem.'
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2005

    compelling

    Very enjoyable read with fascinating underlying allegory.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2004

    Yawn...Yawn....

    Boring. Good enough only to ward off total rigormortis. If you read this book and enjoy it, you need to get a life.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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