When Laurence Waters arrives at his rural posting, Frank 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 staff in the deserted hospital view Laurence with a mixture of awe and mistrust. The 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 still be alive. And down at Mama's place, a group of soldiers have moved in with their malign commandant, a man Frank has met before and is keen to avoid. Laurence wants to help - but in a world where the past is demanding restitution from the present, his ill-starred idealism cannot last. In gleaming prose, Damon Galgut has created a literary thriller out of an unlikely friendship. The Good Doctor is a gripping novelistic high-wire act.
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.