A COUNTRY DOCTOR’S NOTEBOOK

country

★★★★☆

Do I express my thoughts lucidly?
I think I do.
What is my life? An absurdity.
(Morphine)

An absurdity indeed. Do I like going to see the doctor? No. Have I been six times in the last three months? Yes. The moment my son breaks out in a rash it’s a red alert for the family. He isn’t even four months old and he’s so comfortable in the surgery waiting room that he prefers sleeping there to sleeping in his crib, it’s ridiculous. There’s a level of anxiety I now feel going into the doctor’s office because I know she’ll give me this look as to say “what now?” and I’m there like “please, my sister and I like to avoid doctors and dentists for years at a time, I’m not the hypochondriac here… but really, what is this red dot on his stomach?” (No, it’s a real dot this time, not like the “really bad cut” my boyfriend and his dad once panicked over which ended up being a piece of red scarf fluff stuck to his cheek.)

So, doctors and facepalm-inducing patients: this was the second Bulgakov book I read instead of reading The Master and Margarita as I originally (and repeatedly) set out to do [edit: as of 2016 I have finally read this]. This slim volume of short stories mostly relate the narrator’s experiences as a newly qualified doctor assigned to a village practice in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t disappoint.

There are a fair few funny anecdotal tales which make up the bulk of this book, full of annoying patients (like myself), ridiculous situations, moments of extreme panic and self-doubt on the narrator’s part too. This doctor is fresh out of school, clinging onto academic achievements and really is thrown into the deep end: he isn’t assigned to work in a hospital with other doctors, he is completely alone and in charge of a surgery where he now has to put medical theory to practice for the first time. He’s isolated geographically and socially from city life and peers, surrounded by a syphilis epidemic and villagers so obstinately set in their own ways they sometimes obstruct him from doing his job (which he kind of wants at the start to avoid responsibility). I do think many doctors/nurses would enjoy reading this as they will have been in similar circumstances feeling the same kind of apprehension, misguided confidence/trust and subsequent woe as the narrator feels. I want to write down more about these stories, but I’ll end up paraphrasing them badly when they’re short enough to read anyway.

Given the hypochondriac nature of the family and their fondness for telling anecdotes of similar amusing nature, I asked my boyfriend’s dad (who practically forced mustard-plasters onto my boyfriend when he hurt his back this year) if he ever read this book and what he thought of it. He looked at it nonchalantly, “this is the one with Morphine… no, I don’t like this.” I can understand why to some extent. The last two stories Morphine and The Murderer are sombre accounts compared to the dark comical follies we’re presented beforehand and it turns the mood completely. It didn’t negatively impact my enjoyment when reading though.

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About SZ

Like dice in mid-air.
This entry was posted in Books, Review, Russian literature for the non-Russian mother and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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