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Damon Galgut’s The Good Doctor was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize. I have not read other works on the Shortlist for that year, although Margaret Atwood’s highly regarded Oryx and Crake was also on that list. The very popular The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was Longlisted.

The venue is South Africa soon after the end of apartheid. The scene is a rural hospital that virtually has no patients or useful equipment. Some of the latter is stolen by one of the employees, Tehogo who along with the local military express some of the racial tension associated with change in power and outlook.

The principal characters are two doctors at the hospital. Frank, the long-time employee who has been promised leadership of the hospital after Dr. Ngema is promoted, is cynical or realistic depending on your point-of-view. Dr. Ngema is a bureaucrat and Frank is one in-waiting. He is the product of a very successful father and a broken marriage, and the hospital is a refuge. In contrast, Laurence is the young idealistic doctor, devoid of social experience, who in search of a challenge chooses this hospital, perhaps believing it had a patient base. Laurence energizes the hospital by trying to start a clinic in the villages in the bush. Unfortunately, it has no capability to service any medical condition that is more than minor. The interesting aspect of Laurence’s character is whether he is truly “good” or more passive-aggressive.

It is an entertaining read, but I doubt I would have Short or Longlisted it. Sometimes prizes are the product of the times.