Monday, 22 March 2021

The Good Doctor

Finished March 17
The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut

This book was shortlisted for the Booker and other prizes and takes place in a more remote part of South Africa. A newly graduated doctor, Laurence Waters, has signed up for his community service and chosen their hospital to do it at. Everyone at the small hospital is surprised. They haven't been looking for more staff. In fact, they aren't very busy at all. 
The town they are in is an anomaly. It is a planned chosen with the location chosen by remote bureaucrats and has no natural attractions. It was for a time the base for a homeland leader, but he is no longer in power and the few bits of government that came due to his presence are now gone. The town has little to offer, a small grocery store, a cafe that tried to also be a hotel for a time, and not much else. 
The staff at the hospital is small: the director, Dr. Ngema, a black woman hoping to get an appointment elsewhere; Frank Eloff, the narrator, an Afrikaner doctor hired to replace her, that stayed even when she didn't go; the Santanders, a doctor couple from Cuba; and Tehogo, a young native man who failed his exams for a nurse but does nursing and orderly and other odd jobs.
When Laurence arrives there are only two patients and one soon gets transported to the nearby city hospital for treatment. The hospital is poorly funded and lacks basic supplies, which limits what they can accomplish and what their patients can be treated for. It is soon apparent that Laurence is an idealist who wants to make this job an altruistic sacrifice for himself.
Frank is unhappy with his arrival, and doubly so when he learns he must share his small room with the new doctor. This is due to a lack of furniture, and the race of the few staff. Even though Tehogo is of lower rank, he is black and thus Laurence and him cannot share a room.
There are several plot points here, one involving a young roadside vendor, a woman that Frank has become involved with, Tehogo and his activities, and new activity around the nearby border. 
One of the reasons that Frank applied for this job and didn't leave when Dr. Ngema's appointment fell through is his marital situation. He is separated from his wife who is seeking a divorce, and she left him while having an affair with his best friend. Frank really has little in the way of outside ties except his father, with whom he has a complicated and distant relationship. 
This is a slow and sad story, a story of hopelessness and apathy, yet somehow one that draws you in. 

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