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The Good Doctor

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The internationally acclaimed novel, is the story of an idealistic medical graduate who arrives at an isolated South African hospital to take up a year's community service

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2003

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About the author

Damon Galgut

39 books643 followers
Damon Galgut was born in Pretoria in 1963. He wrote his first novel, A Sinless Season, when he was seventeen. His other books include Small Circle of Beings, The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs, The Quarry, The Good Doctor and The Impostor. The Good Doctor was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Dublin/IMPAC Award. The Imposter was also shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. He lives in Cape Town.

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5 stars
801 (20%)
4 stars
1,584 (39%)
3 stars
1,193 (30%)
2 stars
307 (7%)
1 star
78 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 384 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,396 followers
April 14, 2023
The Good Doctor is about the dual nature of things.
The past and the future are dangerous countries; I had been living in no man’s land, between their borders, for the last seven years.

Desolation, friendship, idealism: the story is simple but it is full of complicated undertows.
Why? Is that too real for you? Ideas are always better than reality, of course. But sooner or later the real world always wins.

There are two sides to everything one does – there are two sides to every coin. Life is an ambiguous thing…
Everything is politics… The moment you put two people in a room together, politics enters in. That’s how it is.

The entire world is divided into friends and enemies.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,155 reviews1,696 followers
January 24, 2023

Senza parole

Il Sudafrica post-apartheid è un paese ancora da costruire.
Lo è quando Galgut scrive questo romanzo.
Lo è nelle opere di Coetzee che conosco (lo è già meno nei romanzi, più contemporanei di Deon Meyer).
In queste pagine ambientate all’inizio del terzo millennio verità e riconciliazione sono una formula di principio, non sostanza: di verità ce n’è poca, e la riconciliazione è un obiettivo da raggiungere.
Il confine tra bene e male è sottile e frastagliato: in questo Sudafrica di più.
Il suggerimento che pare scaturire dal romanzo di Galgut è: guardiamo in faccia il presente, il passato è un luogo pericoloso, e lasciamo che il futuro se la sbrighi da solo.
Tuttavia, il passato reclama dal presente il suo risarcimento.

Il bush

La storia è ambientata nei pressi del confine sudafricano, quale dei tanti non è dato sapere (Mozambico, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho?).
Il set principale è un ospedale fatiscente, una di quelle costruzioni moderne che non vedono mai la parola fine e diventano vecchie prima ancora di essere ultimate.
L’ospedale fa riferimento a una città che è stato un avamposto, la capitale di una homeland bantu, uno stato fantoccio con i suoi monumenti, le sue piazze e perfino il suo dittatore nero: ora la polvere copre tutto, la città è desolata e semideserta, un non-luogo che sembra uscito da un film post-apocalittico – ma anche da un libro di Coetzee tipo Aspettando i barbari.
Tutto intorno il bush, una natura forte, capace di cambiare il paesaggio nel giro di qualche settimana, di far sparire e stravolgere l’intervento umano in poco tempo se l’uomo lascia andare e si dimentica di conservare.

Il Museo dell’Apartheid a Johannesburg, inaugurato nel 2001.

L’io narrante è un medico, e come il sottotenente Drogo, passa la vita aspettando qualcosa che non arriva.
Al contrario di Drogo, è disincantato, forse addirittura cinico, si è assuefatto all’attesa, e in essa ha trovato quasi motivo di felicità (alla ex moglie confessa, Puoi anche non crederci, ma voglio restare là. A modo mio là sono quasi felice).
E poi arriva il buon dottore: giovane, fresco di laurea, pieno di idealismo, e anche di sé, pieno di entusiasmo e generosità, che il nostro io narrante ha invece smarrito per strada.
Il fatto che a raccontare sia il primo crea ambivalenza e non è tanto facile dire chi dei due è davvero ‘il buono’.
La dinamica che s’innesta tra i due personaggi, destinati a diventare amici nonostante tutto, crea un clima di tensione dominato da un senso di minaccia e di fine prossima.

Prosa serrata, buon ritmo, Galgut è uno scrittore capace di appiccare il fuoco e trascinarci nel cuore di tenebra dell’Africa, gettando luce anche su riflessi bianchi, non solo neri.

Quiver Tree Forest
December 26, 2015
Here we have four doctors and a male nurse in a small rural hospital in South Africa with no money, tables, spare beds or anything much material, and only one patient. Sounds like a sitcom or tragicomedy at least. But it's not.

The head of the hospital, a black female doctor and the male nurse who isn't trained and is a thief with a nasty angle in threats that he may or may not mean, are out to further their own career aims. The other three doctors, all white, are busy screwing either Maria, a very obliging (when her husband isn't around) local black shopkeeper, or the African-American fiancee of the earnest young doctor doing a year's work experience or bemoaning their lot. And all of them watching out for terrorist activity with veterans of the apartheid struggle from both sides seeking supremacy in the area and revenge. Political intrigues on a small scale abound in this area which had seen much action but few rewards.

There is a white car. It may be a red herring. Maria's husband has a white car. The terrorist murderers have a white car. The white car is seen on many occasions. Maybe it is the same car. Maybe there is only one murderer.

I tried to read it and gave up. Not my kind of book at all. I tried it because I had just picked up The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe and felt like another Southern Africa political book. But then I found it transformed into a play produced in South Africa with local actors and it was brilliant. So I 'read' it after all, and it was 5 star minus one because I'm still not sure I really understood it. Or perhaps there wasn't anything to understand, it was just laid out - this is how it is.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,770 reviews4,248 followers
May 24, 2021
Following two men working in a rural, near-deserted South African hospital, Damon Galgut's The Good Doctor is an ambiguous story, in which nothing happens, and everything happens; a book of thick and palpable atmosphere. Frank Eloff is the long-established deputy director of the hospital, perpetually waiting for a step upwards to the top spot, a move that has been repeatedly promised, but never quite happens. At the beginning of the story, a new junior doctor, Laurence Waters, arrives - having apparently insisted upon this location, despite the fact that there are so few patients, the existing team find themselves with hardly anything to do. Laurence is everything Frank is not: endlessly upbeat, hopeful and incredibly, perhaps even wilfully, naive. But he also has a sinister streak, and when the two doctors are forced to share a room, Frank finds himself more and more distrustful of Laurence.

The plot also weaves in small stories that build up a picture of the surrounding area and its people. Built to serve the capital of a now-defunct homeland, the hospital is located amongst arid wasteland and an entirely deserted town. It's a setting Galgut exploits to full effect, creating a vivid image of an eerie, empty backdrop perfectly suited to the lost individuals who inhabit it - 'a strange twilight place', as Frank calls it. Secondary characters come into their own as representations of this place's limitations and its chequered history. There's Maria, a local married woman with whom Frank has had a long-running, erratic and distinctly odd affair; Tehogo, a hospital orderly who exerts an inexplicable power over the other staff; and 'the Brigadier', the self-styled former dictator of the homeland, who may or may not still be alive and exists as a shadowy presence on the fringes of both the town and the story.

The book opens with Frank's first impression of Laurence: 'The first time I saw him I thought, he won't last.' Later: 'I wanted to say, you're very young. I wanted to tell him, you won't last.' Yet lonely Frank finds himself unable to reject Laurence entirely - the newcomer is 'like two people', one an unwanted, clingy shadow, the other a much-needed confidant. There is always something vaguely disturbing about Laurence's presence, and always some suggestion he is not quite telling the whole truth about his own past; at other points, there are hints of an always-formless sexual tension between him and Frank. These various suggestions remain, for the most part, suggestions, and The Good Doctor never reaches the simmering pitch of a thriller. Despite that, it's an engrossing story that had me completely captivated from the first page onwards.

Who is 'the good doctor' of the title? It could be either Laurence, with his puppy-dog optimism, or Frank, who is far more down-to-earth, realistic and practical. But the book keeps the answer from us, highlighting the characters' faults - Laurence's damaging and possibly deliberate guilelessness and Frank's jaded, unhelpful cynicism - too clearly for either to be truly worthy of the name. There again, The Good Doctor is also, arguably, an allegory, with the protagonists' attitudes illustrating different approaches to the 'new' South Africa and the flaws within them. Frank is stuck in his ways and resists change, unless it benefits him. Laurence, on the other hand, wants to enable change, but goes about it in all the wrong ways, blindly doing what he thinks is right or useful rather than what is actually necessary or helpful to the impoverished community. Both men struggle to relate to their non-white colleagues, and in the end this will play a pivotal part in their respective failures. Near the end, Frank's boss Dr Ngema confronts him about his innate racism, but he resists, and thereafter the two are simply 'carefully nice to each other' - he still hasn't learned.

I loved the graceful voice and controlled tone of this spellbinding novel. Nominated for the Booker Prize in 2003, it's lost none of its power and feels incredibly fresh. I can't fault it - undoubtedly the best book I've read this year so far.
Profile Image for Paula Mota.
967 reviews309 followers
January 8, 2022

‘What do they say about me?’
‘That you’re not part of... of the new country.’
‘The new country,’ I said. ‘Where is it the new country?’
‘All around you, Frank. Everything you see. We’re starting again, building it all up from the ground.’
'Words,’ I said. ‘Words and symbols.'

A escrita deste livro é despojada mas hipnotizante, não acontece praticamente nada, mas nunca perde o interesse, as personagens são distantes entre si e eu mantive a distância em relação a elas, mas não deixam de ser intrigantes. Passado num hospital criado para a população negra de um bantustão, mas agora praticamente abandonado numa África do Sul pós-Apartheid, temos um médico empedernido, Frank, que marca passo à espera de uma promoção, até que chega Laurence, um jovem médico idealista. Tal como em “Disgrace” de J.M. Coetzee, podemos vê-los como símbolos de dois momentos distintos da história da África do Sul, mas interessou-me mais a apatia e os fantasmas do médico mais velho.
Profile Image for Roger Brunyate.
946 reviews637 followers
June 18, 2018
Giving Dead Flowers to Africans

Damon Galgut's novel about post-Apartheid South Africa is compelling all the way through, but there is one relatively minor incident in the middle that gripped me immediately. The narrator, Frank Eloff, a doctor at a run-down hospital in the bush, goes for a brief visit to the city, where he stays with his father, a much more successful man. There is a vase of flowers on the mantel that is beginning to turn brown, and the father asks his fourth wife Valerie to have them removed; she says she's already told the maid. But when by evening the flowers have still not been taken away, Valerie speaks sideways to her while she is serving coffee:
"Betty, the flowers... Don't you want to take them? They'd look so nice in your little room..."

Then, as Betty carries the brown limp leaves from the mantelpiece to the door, Frank's father speaks: "You're dropping petals, Betty. All over the place. Please, please..."

And the old lady in the nice blue uniform set the dying flowers down and got on to her knees. She started crawling across the floor, picking up bits of flowers as she went.
When I read this little episode, I thought it was a peripheral detail, to contrast Frank's Spartan world with that of the pampered bourgeoisie he has left behind. But I now see that its attitude of racial misunderstanding cloaked in a misplaced benevolence is reflected in just about every other aspect of this morally complex novel. Take the hospital, for instance. It is a run-down place with few facilities and almost no patients, built in one of the former Homelands, an area of impoverished land ceded by the white government for native self-determination. Now, with Apartheid past, all the buildings and institutions of the former capital have fallen into disuse. Frank, who has been there for some years, is one of two white doctors in the hospital. The other is a young do-gooder named Laurence Waters. He has deliberately sought out this remote area to do his required year of community service after graduation, and is full of plans for outreach activities such as clinics in surrounding villages. The older Frank, who has to share a room with Laurence, both likes and resents him, feeling his values challenged, but unable or unwilling to do much about them.

Both doctors have black lovers. Laurence is quite open about his girlfriend, Zanele, an activist like him and an aid worker in nearby Lesotho. Frank drives out at night on the sly to visit the keeper of a souvenir shack in the surrounding area, an African woman whom he calls Maria. Both relationships ultimately fall into the chasm between vague benevolence and true empathy. Neither does the naive Laurence have much understanding of the political situation in this border territory, when a number of incidents draws a detachment of soldiers to area to strengthen security. Frank thinks he knows what is going on, but when the tensions explode into outright violence, it appears that he is as ignorant as his young colleague. [As is this reader, I am sorry to say; while Galgut builds the palpable atmosphere of danger simply beautifully, it is also difficult for a non-South-African to grasp its exact nature.]

The book jacket rightly compares Galgut to Graham Greene; the submerged political unrest is very much like the atmosphere of novels like The Comedians, and Frank himself might well be a cousin of the flawed protagonist of A Burnt Out Case. Laurence, the well-meaning innocent, reminds me of the title character in The Lamb by Greene's friend François Mauriac. But the author who most clearly hangs over this tale is the earlier J. M. Coetzee, whose Disgrace shows a similar quest for moral clarity in an obscurely shifting racial world. Neither author suffers from this comparison.
Profile Image for Doug.
1,992 reviews706 followers
February 10, 2022
4.5, rounded down.

What I love about Galgut's writing is how much lies just beneath the surface, and how the reader has to dig to ferret out exactly what is actually going on - both on a plot level, and allegorically also. If this doesn't quite reach the heights of his recent Booker-winner, it richly deserved its shortlisting for the same prize. And my only qualm is that after it is all over, one is still not QUITE sure what did actually happen - but I think such ambiguity is intentional and is something of a plus in this case (... or - I just don't know enough about South African politics/history). As always, Galgut's spare, simple prose is a pleasure to read.
Profile Image for David.
603 reviews128 followers
June 5, 2022
Very good writing. Interesting premise. Multiple narrative threads and layers of meaning, giving the novel complexity and depth. So I am left to puzzle out why I didn't like it more, and the only thing I can point to is Dr. Frank Eloff, Jr.

Generally I am fine with narrator-protagonists who are moderately unattractive. In Frank's case we have one who is aging, physically deconditioned, ethically flawed, and a bit antisocial. Were he not also the least interesting character in the story, I think this would have been more compelling.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews563 followers
December 22, 2021
* 3.5 *

Initially, I liked this more than The Promise . It certainly asks less of the reader in terms of its style. But in the end, I don't think this had the impact of Galgut's Booker prize-winning effort.

I do seem to have something of a block with Galguts books, peopled as they are with fairly unlikeable characters. There is also this distancing tone which makes for a fairly mirthless and sombre experience. I admire the writing but ultimately don't emotionally engage with the stories.

However, if you loved The Promise then this is another fine bit of South African writing that is worth reading.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,778 reviews1,266 followers
August 6, 2021
The book is written by Frank – the deputy at a hospital built in the dying days of apartheid in a new town (half) built in one of the newly established homelands. In the post-apartheid world the hospital has little purpose, most people go to the much better equipped ex-white hospital nearby and the hospital and its staff live an uneventful life.

This changes when Lawrence arrives – on a one year posting under a government scheme to make new doctors do community service in local hospitals. To everyone’s astonishment Lawrence deliberately chose the hospital and once he has got over his initial shock at the lack of activity starts coming up with schemes to boost the hospital – mainly an outreach style clinic in the local villages.

The book makes much of the contrast between idealistic Lawrence and cynical Frank – although neither is particularly appealing. Other characters include: the Brigadier – the ex-Dictator who took control of the homeland in a military coup but who now seemingly hides out in a deserted army camp and sneaks in his old residence to tend the garden; Zanele – Lawrence��s girlfriend – a black American who changes her name and disowns her upbringing to serve in Africa, but who ends up sleeping with Frank; Maria – a local who Lawrence is having an affair with; Tehogo – a black in the hospital and victim of the civil war, who for these reasons has a privileged status but who ends up involved with some form of terrorists; Frank’s Dad and ex-wife – a vision of the privileged white South Africa far removed from the poverty of the ex-homeland..

The book is written in simple, sparse language – and has a slightly haunting, disturbing effect emphasised by the sense of not quite understanding what is happening/being hinted at.

It conveys a sense of underlying and profound change happening while equally on the surface little is altering.

Clearly Frank’s life is meant to form some kind of allegory for post-apartheid South Africa.

Frank himself seems unhappy and resentful of Lawrence (and much of the rest of his life) without really understanding why and this feeling transfers across to the reader who is left at the end unsettled and dissatisfied.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,212 reviews35 followers
December 31, 2021
4.5 rounded up

With his latest (and ninth) novel, The Promise, winning the Booker this year, Damon Galgut was already firmly on my radar. But with many of my Goodreads pals delving into his backlist I was intrigued enough to pick up his fifth novel, The Good Doctor when I had a 'free' book with my Waterstones Plus points.

I should say first that I totally get the negative reviews of this as these are things that often mean I struggle with a book: the detached narrator, a sparse writing style, perhaps overly clearly signposted good versus bad characters and morals. But something about this novel had me totally enraptured, and I found it to be a propulsive story of a fractured country and people finding their way in the wake of apartheid. Fantastic writing too -- I've already picked up In a Strange Room on the strength of this, and plan to get to his Booker winner soon too.
Profile Image for Tony.
906 reviews1,516 followers
August 19, 2014
Doctor # 1 is old school, with nostalgia for the good old days of Apartheid. He made much money with a side television gig. He jokes that he could work for a black, as long as the black wasn’t a woman. His fourth wife, the much younger Valerie, feigns outrage.

Doctor # 2 is the black woman Doctor # 1 would not, hypothetically, work for. She runs the medical outpost that is the focus of this novel. It is under-supplied and barely functioning. A nurse is found to be stealing what few supplies there are but Doctor # 2 purposefully ignores it because the black nurse has suffered already through the hard times. She instead is indignant at Doctor # 4 who happened upon the theft.

Doctor # 3 is a young idealist who volunteers for the outpost. He wears a white face and a white doctor’s coat. He is encumbered by his intentions. He is engaged to a black American woman, but his dreams intrude. He thinks Doctor # 4 is his first (ever) friend. He is, in a word, unaware.

Doctor # 4 is our narrator. He is the son of Doctor # 1. He came to the outpost to replace Doctor # 2 but bureaucracy raised its ugly head. He stayed, nevertheless. Cuckolded by his wife and best friend, he is letting himself go; but he still manages to slink into nocturnal visits to ‘Maria’ whenever her husband’s white car is not parked outside her hut. He makes out in a car with the fiancée of Doctor # 3 and had a brief affair with the married woman next door.

Okay, now that you know the script: Who is The Good Doctor?

The title, of course, insists that you ask that question throughout. From the character sketches above you might think the answer is ambiguous. Perhaps there should be the options of ‘None of the Above’ and ‘All of the Above’.

I’ve a feeling the presence of the white car (one or more white cars) must have some symbolic meaning in this story of the dissolution of a soul in post-Apartheid South Africa.

A Good Read, even if there's not a Good Doctor to be found.
Profile Image for Claire Fuller.
Author 13 books2,040 followers
September 30, 2021
Frank is a middle-aged doctor in an isolated, run-down rural hospital in the homelands of South Africa just after the ending of apartheid. He is solitary, set in his ways, moving through life in a dream. A young newly qualified doctor, Laurence arrives at the hospital full of enthusiasm, ideas, and ideals. Frank is forced to share his room at the hospital. Laurence believes that Frank is his friend, but with barely concealed scorn and irritation, Frank refuses to change.

There's not a lot of plot, but the writing is wonderful and the novel - from Frank's point of view - has a dreamy quality full of absence and inaction.

Frank and Laurence's relationship is a metaphor for pre-apartheid South Africa and the post-apartheid country. They don't understand each other. he older is worn down and resents change. Frank is shocked when he sees his father's black maid on her hands and knees picking up dropped flower petals while his father points out one after another, but not understanding how his one-sided relationship with a local black woman demeans her as much as the maid having to pick up petals. And the new: full of eager enthusiasm, moving too fast to change the views and habits of others, and ultimately, putting himself in danger.

I enjoyed this very much. Maybe not quite as much as The Promise, which is short-listed for the Booker.
Profile Image for Friederike Knabe.
398 reviews155 followers
March 19, 2012
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.

Galgut introduces two black women as counterparts to his central characters - apart from their boss, Dr. Ngema, who, while preaching "innovation and change", keeps busy with the opposites. Zalena and Maria represent two completely different worlds and the relationships that Laurence and Frank form speak volumes about their understanding (or not) of race and the lives of Black South Africans. On the surface the two doctors may appear to be two sides of the same coin, but as we follow Frank's narrative and self-analysis, we see a much more complex personality emerging, that of a man whose background has formed his cynicism and subsequent behaviour. For him "past and the future are dangerous countries". For Laurence the future of the country is here and now! He believes in it completely...

With "The Good Doctor" Damon Galgut has created a very powerful novel, a psychological study of a group of individuals who are representative of a society in flux and turmoil. Written with elegance and expressive depth, it puts the author for me into the league of the likes of J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer.
Profile Image for Tanuj Solanki.
Author 4 books362 followers
September 4, 2021
Excellent novel. I couldn't help but compare it with J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. For one thing, both novels have a divorced male protagonist seeking a solution for 'the problem of sex'. Both protagonists are, to my mind, on the verge of cynical; and both are confronted with a character that they just can't seem to communicate with - David's daughter in the case of Disgrace, and Laurence in the case of The Good Doctor.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,470 reviews565 followers
September 3, 2018
I don’t know who the "good doctor" is in this gripping novel set in post-apartheid South Africa. All of the doctors in the dilapidated, deserted, remote hospital portrayed here are deeply flawed. On the one hand, the novel is about the conflict between a jaded doctor and a young, idealistic doctor. At the same time the author skillfully exposes the contradictions of the "new" South Africa. Not much happens but it manages to be a page turner.
Profile Image for Come Musica.
1,537 reviews379 followers
September 12, 2022
Questo è per me il secondo libro che leggo di questo autore.

Il romanzo è ancora ambientato in Sudafrica, quello post-apartheid. Regna una pace apparente e fittizia. Due medici, Frank e Laurence, che lavorano in ospedale: due personaggi completamente opposti, non solo caratterialmente, ma anche a livello di visioni di vita, di inquietudine, che si trovano a dividere una stanza. Una calma apparente, finché Laurence non esterna la sua inquietudine e si avventura nell'apertura di un ambulatorio. Frank resta attonito davanti a questa proposta:

“La cosa mi disturbava. Mi disturbava perché, a dire la verità, a me non importava molto. Non che non ci provassi. Davo il meglio di me con professionalità e distacco, ma quando non c’era niente da fare, non ci pensavo più. E il coinvolgimento e l’impegno di Laurence mi facevano sentire in difetto.
Mi misi a setacciare la mia vita alla ricerca di un momento di verità simile al suo. Sentivo che qualcosa, chissà dove e chissà quando, era accaduto per fare di me quello che ero. Ma non riuscivo a ricordarlo.”

Una zona d'ombra divide i due medici-amici, come quella che separa il passato dal futuro

“Il passato e il futuro sono luoghi pericolosi; io avevo vissuto nella terra di nessuno, tra i due confini, negli ultimi sette anni. Capivo che stavo ricominciando a muovermi, e avevo paura.”

L'entusiamo, la determinazione, anche l'incoscienza di Laurence mettono in crisi le certezze del buon dottore Frank. La sua vita piatta inizia a smuoversi e in pochi giorni si creano tanti punti di non ritorno, come se il cambiamento fosse stato sempre in agguato e avesse solo aspettato il momento propizio per palesarsi.

“Subito certo, e poi di nuovo incerto… ma la connessione era stabilita. E la sensazione che avevo, mentre continuavo a guidare nell’oscurità, simile a una terribile inquietudine che mi spingeva avanti, era che appena fuori dalla mia portata si incastrassero i tasselli del puzzle che ancora mi mancavano.”

La vita di Frank è un po' metafora di quello che accade nella vita di tanti di noi...

“Forse la mia è solo la calma apparente della rassegnazione. Ma in qualche modo ho la sensazione di aver raggiunto il mio obiettivo.
Questo potrebbe dipendere semplicemente dal fatto che, dopo sette anni di attesa, mi sono spostato di circa venti metri, nella camera della dottoressa Ngema. Un piccolo evento, ma che per me significa molto. Una nuova stanza, spoglia, pulita e vuota: un buon posto da cui ricominciare. Ho sparso le mie cose qua e là, ho comprato stoffe e quadri da appendere. Farei di tutto pur di lasciare una traccia in questo vuoto. E comunque ora la mia vita ha di nuovo un fondamento. So che non resterò incastrato qui per sempre; vedrò nuovi posti, nuove persone arriveranno.
Il futuro ha un senso completamente nuovo, grazie a un singolo, minuscolo cambiamento. Il che mi spinge a pensare che forse le cose sarebbero andate diversamente, se non avessi mai dovuto dividere la mia stanza con qualcuno.”
Profile Image for Erkan.
260 reviews38 followers
February 6, 2023
Aslında bu kitabı idefix'te bakınırken fiyatı çok uygun diye fazla incelemeden almıstım. İştahli bir şekilde okumaya başlamamış olsam da okurken iyi ki almışım dedirtti bana. Yazar Coetzee gibi Afrikaners da denilen Güney Afrikalı beyazlardan. Zamanında Hollanda'dan göçen ya da bölgeye getirilen insanlardan diyebiliriz kısaca. Bölge malumunuz siyasi olarak epey sıkıntılı ve ister istemez bu durum bütün hayata sirayet ettiği gibi romanlara da ediyor.

Romanda iki ana karakter var, bir tanesi bir süredir medeniyete uzak bir bölgedeki hastanede doktorluk yapan romanı da birinci tekil şahıs olarak agızdan dinlediğimiz, bazı açılardan yenilmiş, hayatta tutunacak çok bir şey bulamayan Frank ve yeni mezun, idealist doktor Laurence. Tabi bu durum başlı başına sağlam bir çatışma örneği oldugundan romana epey dinamizm katıyor. Bu ikilinin inişli çıkışlı ilişkisi etrafında ülkenin siyasi durumunun da oldukça başarılı şekilde aktarıldığı bir olay örgüsü var. Kitabın başlarında okudugum şu cümle bölgenin (hatta tüm dünyanın) durumunu özetler nitlikteydi ;

"Her şey siyasi Laurence. İki kişiyi aynı odaya koyduğun anda siyaset başlar. Bu böyledir.."
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews763 followers
November 20, 2010
It's taken me over a week, but I have uprated this to four stars. When I finished the initial reading, I was left feeling distinctly confused. The two main characters are in such diametric opposition to each other, one naive, fresh, young, enthusiastic and active, the other jaded, cynical, apathetic and world-weary, that I decided they must be representatives of a type rather than complex personalities with complete psychologies and back stories. And, swayed by the title, I assumed that active and dynamic must be good, and lethargic and care-worn must be bad: but the ending meant that I needed to drastically re-think that categorisation. We may not still be in the 19th century, when according to Oscar Wilde:"The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means." , but nevertheless, the survival of one character and the death of another do still give some indication of which line of action can be seen as legitimate and valid, and which one is futile and inoperable. So I went back and re-read it, and have come to the conclusion that 'good' in the title is ironic; that the main opposition between Frank and Laurence is their consciousness (or lack of same) of the past, their readiness to make concessions, to compromise, based on the idea of taking South Africa's past history into consideration, letting it appear in the accounts or leaving it out of the calculation. And suddenly this short novel 'works' for me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Claire.
823 reviews177 followers
December 27, 2021
A rewarding first outing into the Galgut backlist for this reader. The Good Doctor is a sparse and distantly told story about the challenges and failures of post-Apartheid society in South Africa. Galgut explores different attitudinal responses which arise in these conditions in this almost allegorical narrative. It’s one of those books where nothing in particular happens, but the accumulation of small moments, tells us a lot about the human condition. My only criticism, is that some of the construction of good and bad felt a bit heavy handed at times, but this was remedied in a strong and thoughtful conclusion. An excellent read, and I look forward to further explorations in Galgut’s backlist.
Profile Image for Leah.
1,389 reviews210 followers
April 27, 2018
Channelling Greene...

Having retreated to a remote country hospital following the messy break-up of his marriage, Doctor Frank Eloff is in a reasonably contented rut. The hospital is in a town that was briefly the capital of a newly set-up homeland in South Africa. But politics move on, and the homeland ceased to exist when apartheid ended, so that now the town is sparsely occupied and the hospital has very few patients and only a tiny staff. But one day a new doctor shows up – young Laurence Waters, who has chosen to do his year's compulsory post-qualifying service in this remote spot. Idealistic and somewhat naive, Laurence wants to do good, and his presence becomes a catalyst for change. This is a story of disillusionment – of a man and of a country.

In both style and subject matter, the book reminded me very much of Graham Greene. Galgut has that same spare precision with words, that ability to conjure a pervading air of menace and decay, that empathetic insight into the fallibilities of human nature. His main character and narrator, Frank, also has all the attributes of a Greene protagonist – somewhat passive, without the strength of character to be either fully good or fully bad, an observer forced to become an unwilling participant. His marriage ended years ago, but he is treading water, unwilling to finalise the divorce – symbolic of the end of apartheid not yet having produced the hoped-for change. The lives of all the hospital staff are in limbo, each waiting for a change that seems increasingly unlikely – the head of the hospital waiting for promotion back to the city, Frank waiting to fill her shoes when – if – she goes, a married couple from Cuba, one wishing to return, the other wishing to stay, and their marriage slowly disintegrating under the strain.

Along comes Laurence, fresh and full of hope, forcing the others to recognise the lethargy they've sunk into. The question seems to be – will Laurence change them or will they destroy his idealistic optimism? The answer never seems in doubt.

There was much I loved about this – the writing, the characterisation of Frank, the creation of an air of uneasy melancholy and later of menace and fear. I was totally involved for well over half of the book. And then, and I can't quite put my finger on the reason, it fell away and rather lost me towards the end. I felt the plot wasn't developed well enough – it all seemed contrived to deliver an ending. (Yes, I know all plots are contrived to deliver endings, but the good ones don't feel as if they are.) The drama all takes place off the page, which does stop it reading like a thriller, which it isn't, but also somehow stops it from delivering an emotional impact. When the major event finally occurred, I found I didn't much care. And that made me realise that, although Frank is fully and excellently realised, the other characters hadn't come to life for me, not even Laurence. In a sense, I think that's part of the point – Frank is detached from emotional involvement, and therefore so are we. But even when he is finally jarred out of his apathy, his efforts at playing a more active part are half-hearted and soon over. Again, I think this is meant to be symbolic of the failure of the hopes of the new South Africa, but whatever, it left me shrugging a bit.

I also developed the impression, rightly or wrongly, that this feeling of utter depression about the state of post-apartheid South Africa was terribly white. Galgut doesn't romanticise the past in any way – quite the reverse – but he also gives no feeling for the immense hope that surely existed among black South Africans, finally free from the yoke of subjugation. Even when things didn't improve as dramatically as people hoped, I found the idea of apathetic acceptance unrealistic. I'd have expected continued hope, anger, possibly despair – not apathy. But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps in the rural areas things went on much as they always had.

I certainly enjoyed Galgut's writing and found the book thought-provoking if not entirely convincing. I'll be looking forward to reading more of his work and, despite my reservations, I do recommend this one – although it tailed off for me at the end, I found it an absorbing and worthwhile read up to that point.

Profile Image for Girish.
855 reviews209 followers
June 18, 2017
One of the blurbs had the term “Hippocratic Sloth” and I loved the term to describe this book! The book is a lesson in using understatements to deliver a powerful story.

Set at the cusp of New South Africa after the apartheid era, the book looks at different attitudes to change at a community hospital in an ex-homeland capital. Without supplies and hardly any patients the structure with its people exists as a resigned vestige of the old world.

Till an optimistic new white doctor comes in for the one year community service. Lawrence is an idealist who believes in symbolism and wants to lead the change. He comes in as the conscience of the hospital and with his help they plan outreach program to villages.

Frank, another white doctor and the deputy director and Lawrence roommate is a lot more cynical and wants no part. However the infectious doctor makes him relook at his entire life. As the narrator and someone who has seen both sides of the era - we get to know the subtle undercurrents of the society.

Frank has an affair with a local woman as a transaction and does not even exchange words with the black nurse. He is disillusioned by his own past and is indifferent to the world outside till Laurence comes along.

The goodness and almost zero guile or filter is Laurence’s undoing. And his idealism is infectious and we see the reluctant change coming over Frank and others at the hospital while the external city is also changing with mistrust.

The book is simple and yet powerful. The writing is beautiful. Definitely an author I would read more.
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,185 followers
August 16, 2016
I could only diminish the impact of this book by describing it. Suffice to say one English reviewer said it should have won the Booker - it was merely shortlisted alongside Oryx and Crake - and whilst I have not read the winner of that year, it must be a darn good book.

Rest here:

593 reviews15 followers
June 5, 2022
I found it hard to get into this book at first - my concentration, no fault of the book - and did not pick it up again for a while, however, I have just hungrily devoured the rest, and enjoyed every minute! I loved The Promise by this author, which is why I chose this book, and there is no doubt that he is a fine writer. The highly complex situation in the country provides a unique atmosphere, which is artfully portrayed, and the complicated characters are brilliantly drawn. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,169 reviews1,645 followers
February 11, 2012
Who IS the eponymous “good doctor?” Is it Laurence Waters, the idealist, naïve, committed new physician who is primed to make some waves in a threadbare, mostly deserted hospital in post-apartheid South Africa? Or is it Frank Eloff, the disenchanted current doctor in self-exile and who is far more in touch with the realities of the area?

In some ways, it is both: these two men become inexorably connected. Laurence Waters arrives on the scene as a result of a new South African law which requires newly-minted doctors to serve in remote rural postings. Laurence seizes the moment: it is his chance to make a difference in a changing country. But, as Frank soon realizes, Laurence can be simplistic: “all the complexities and contradictions reduced to a single moral needle-point.”

Frank is the more interesting of the two, morally more complex. Unlike Laurence, who has a black American activist girlfriend whom he keeps at arm’s length, (“behind the brave aspirations, what did these two have in common? Their relationship was just another idea – dry and sensible” (Frank has been windswept by life. His wife left him for a man he considered a friend; additionally, he faced his own moral test with apartheid and failed through inaction. A morally ambiguous relationship with a local woman adds to Frank’s inability to act decisively.

Yet the two – who end up roommates at the hospital – end up in a danse a deux. Frank muses, “We were twined together in a tension that united us; we were different to each other, though it was to our nature to be joined and woven in this way. As for the points that we were spanned between – a rope doesn’t know what its own purpose is.” One gets a sense of South Africa on the cusp: dedicated to “change and innovation” of the future but condemned to move forward inch by inch, if at all, and twined from the past to the future.

This is a poignant book, a lethal one, with echoes of JM Coetzee or perhaps Graham Greene. It is a linear story that belies the powerful themes that lie close to the surface: idealism versus reality, trust versus betrayal, blinding faith versus nihilism, action versus inaction. In a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present, and where the present is not always what it seems, this beautifully understated story gathers momentum as the pages turn.
Profile Image for Ahtims.
1,470 reviews125 followers
July 2, 2017
4.25 stars.
This story takes place in the immediate post Apartheid period.
The place is a remote village in the northern border of the "Homelands" of South Arica.
Setting is a rural community Hospital which is in ruins and is facing a threat of shutdown.
Dr. Lawrence Waters is a young, idealistic, white doctor who comes there on his own volition to do good to the people.
Dr. Frank has been working there for past 7 years, and is slightly disconsolate. He was called there to head the hospital, on the wake of Dr. Ruth Ngema leaving it, but Ruth decides to stay on as the head, and Frank is her underling. There are local helpers, and a male nurse,Tehogo, who is actually not a qualified nurse, but stays on, and cannot be displaced.
Lawrence and Frank become uneasy room mates, and slowly an understanding and friendship sets in.
The idealistic nature of Lawrence and the pragmatic nature of Frank are often at loggerheads.
Frank has a hidden lover, Maria, of whom he tells Frank about
And Lawrence's girl friend, an equally idealistic American black doctor, who wants to be identified as an African native also visits them.
Things broil up when soldiers arrive, ostentatiously for establishing peace and warring against the illegal refugees: and Brigadiers who were supposedly murdered,and Colonels with sadistic natures too join them.
The final few pages march ahead, leaving behind the lethargic prose and things come to an unexpected head-on.

I thoroughly enjoyed this slow paced book. Loved delving through the history and occupational politics of South Africa.
And happy to discover another author.

Why I read the book?
Came highly recommended by Girish.
This weekend I was supposed to have a theme read on anything to do with medical subject.
Profile Image for Pedro.
481 reviews136 followers
November 19, 2021
Frank Eloff trabaja, desde hace siete años, como médico un hospital semiabandonado, en un pueblo fantasma, en un lugar remoto del país. Allí eligió esconderse después de una dolorosa separación.
En el hospital trabaja y convive desde su llegada con los mismos compañeros, en un clima de desidia y resignación en el cual no se siente incómodo.
Pero un día llega un joven médico, Laurence Waters, y provocará el efecto de una piedra que cae en el agua serena, e inicia un proceso de consecuencias imprevisibles.
La acción parece ocurrir en Namibia, cerca de la frontera con Angola; Namibia se independizó de Sudáfrica en 1990, un año antes de la asunción de Nelson Mandela, pero en la novela aún se perciben los resabios de las instituciones del Apartheid.
Una novela narrada en forma excelente, que mantiene el interés en todo momento, y en el que todos los personajes y sectores, muy bien caracterizados, van interactuando según su propia lógica y construyendo una trama que ya parece fuera del control de nadie, en particular del pesimista Fran Eloff.
Una excelente novela, de una gran riqueza humana y social, que me ha dejado pensando mucho.
El autor, Damon Galgut, nació en Sudáfrica en 1958, donde reside actualmente.
Profile Image for Kamil.
213 reviews1,131 followers
January 8, 2022
The Good Doctor” by Damon Galgut.
Galgut's earlier novel, and as promising for those reading this new writer it must have been back in the days, the book suffers from the overeagerness of the early works.
The metaphors, the juxtaposition of certain characters, the thems, all of it is a bit too heavy-handed when compared with "The Promise".

It's a story narrated by a disillusioned, cynical, forty-something doctor working in a poorly equipped, patient-less hospital situated in the deteriorating capital of former “bantustan”. Yes, we are in South Africa with all its post-apartheid problems.

One day this stagnant, set in its ways environment is disturbed by the arrival of a young idealist, a medical graduate who is to spend a year in this god-forgotten place.
The plot develops the way a reader would expect, but Galgut is able to build on the nuances to make it still relatively interesting.
The wiring was already good and showed what was to come. Overall fine, but just fine.
Profile Image for Wojciech Szot.
Author 16 books1,064 followers
January 5, 2022
Damon Galgut, pisarz z RPA został w minionym roku laureatem nagrody Bookera za “The Promise”. Nie było to zaskoczeniem, bo Galgut był faworytem do nagrody, zwłaszcza że już dwukrotnie był do niej nominowany. Ponieważ nazwisko autora niewiele mi mówiło i nigdy nie czytałem jego książek, postanowiłem sobie w świątecznej przerwie poczytać południowoafrykańskiego pisarza nazywanego przez niektórych następcą Coetzeego. I muszę przyznać, że o ile “W obcym pokoju” nie zrobiło na mnie najlepszego wrażenia, tak “Dobry lekarz” to powieść bardzo udana, którą warto odkopać w antykwariatach.

Jesteśmy w małym miasteczku gdzieś na południowoafrykańskiej prowincji kilka lat po - przynajmniej oficjalnym - zakończeniu polityki apartheidu. Dawna stolica bantustanu (quasi państwa, w którym mieli żyć tylko czarni obywatele kraju) podupada - nikt już nie zagląda do baru, kto tylko mógł uciekł przed biedą i marazmem. Z jednej strony wprowadzono - przynajmniej na papierze - równouprawnienie, z drugiej - nie zapewniono mieszkańcom bantustanów żadnego wsparcia podczas transformacji. Jedną z ofiar przemian jest lokalny szpital, do którego prawie nikt nie przychodzi, bo i nie ma po co - każdy większy zabieg i tak trzeba zrobić w większym ośrodku, oddalonym od miasteczka o kilka godzin jazdy. Frank Eloff, który czeka na to aż zostanie kiedyś dyrektorem szpitala na miejsce Ruth Gemy, której obiecano lepsze stanowisko, wydaje się być lekarzem całkiem niezłym, ale zupełnie niezaangażowanym w cokolwiek wykraczającego poza codzienną rutynę. Wszystko zmienia się, gdy do szpitala przyjeżdża młody absolwent studiów medycznych, Laurence Waters. W kraju wprowadzono dla młodych lekarzy obowiązek rocznej pracy na prowincji, ale nikt nigdy nie wybrał tego szpitala i tego miasteczka. Laurence jest pierwszy.

Co gorsza, Laurence wprowadza się do pokoju Franka, bo nie ma innego wyjścia - szpital jest w fatalnym stanie i nie może lekarzowi zapewnić nawet własnego pokoju. Mimo dyskomfortu panowie się całkiem nieźle dogadują. Galgut gra na dość oczywistej różnicy między lekarzami - jeden doświadczony, trochę już cyniczny, znudzony i wypalony, a drugi początkujący, pełen ideałów i chęci do działania. Powoli poznajemy historię Franka - żona odeszła od niego z jego najlepszym przyjacielem, jest synem bogatego lekarza-celebryty, który chce udowodnić ojcu, że bez jego koneksji da sobie radę w życiu, do tego ma kochankę, biedną czarną kobietę prowadzącą stragan z pamiątkami w małej pobliskiej wsi, której płaci za spotkania.

Rok z Laurencem minął by pewnie irytująco, ale bez większych komplikacji, gdyby nie to, że w miasteczku pojawiają się żołnierze, którzy mają walczyć z przemytem (jesteśmy blisko granicy, choć Galgut nie zdradza nam dokładniejszej lokalizacji) i bandami, które uformowały się po zlikwidowaniu bantustanu. Miasteczko odżywa - w barze znowu pije się do nocy, a pokoje gościnne pełne są gości. Odżywa też szpital, bo Laurence wpada na pomysł, by ruszyć w teren i zapoznać mieszkańców okolicy ze szpitalem i lekarzami, co zupełnie nie podoba się Frankowi.

Historia, którą opowiada Galgut jest momentami bardzo oczywista - oto Frank stracił swoje ideały, gdy był lekarzem wojskowym i badał, czy torturowani więźniowie zniosą jeszcze kilka godzin “przesłuchań”, a Laurence będzie tracił swój optymizm, zwłaszcza, że zupełnie nie idzie mu w relacjach z ludźmi i bardzo liczy na pomoc i przyjaźń Franka. Ale jest coś w tej historii poruszającego, zapewne dzięki postaci dyrektorki szpitala, Ruth Gemmy, której postawa =- wycofanie, bierne przyglądanie się niszczeniu szpitala, ale i wiara w to, że coś można zmienić, trzeba mieć tylko do tego odpowiednich ludzi - okazuje się najbardziej uczciwą i odpowiednią.

Galgut napisał książkę moralizatorską i dydaktyczną, bo przecież to historia o budowaniu nowego kraju i nowej wspólnoty, nad którą wciąż unosi się widmo rasizmu. “Czarni nie mają jednego życia - mają wiele” - mówi dyrektorka szpitala, odpowiadając na zarzuty, że nie pilnowała czarnego pielęgniarza, który najprawdopodobniej rozkradał szpital. Tehogo, bo tak miał na imię chłopak, znalazł w szpitalu schronienie przed prześladowcami. W finale ci jednak dopadną chłopaka, a przy okazji Laurence'a. Ale o tym, co się tutaj wydarzy to Państwo niech już sami przeczytają.

To bardzo sprawna, wciągająca i wielowątkowa, ale dobrze poukładana powieść, która może nie jest - jak czasem pisali recenzenci - nowym “Jądrem ciemności”, ale z pewnością pokazuje, że dobro miewa różne barwy, a w finale i tak chodzi o to, żeby mieć własny pokój.

Przekład: Andrzej Kostarczyk, Piotr Kostarczyk. Całkiem udany.
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