Galgut, Damon 1963-
GALGUT, Damon 1963-
Born 1963, in Pretoria, South Africa.
CNA award, 1992, for The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs; Grand Prize of the Americas, Montreal Film Festival, for film The Quarry; Booker Prize nomination, 2003, and Commonwealth Writers Prize, 2004, both for The Good Doctor.
A Sinless Season (novel), J. Ball (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1982.
Echoes of Anger [and] No. 1 Utopia Lane (plays), J. Ball (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1983.
Small Circle of Beings (novel), Lowry Publishers (Braamfontein, South Africa), 1988.
The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs (novel), Scribner (London, England), 1991.
The Quarry (novel), Viking (London, England), 1995.
The Good Doctor (novel), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of plays Party for Mother, Alive and Kicking, and The Green's Keeper.
The Quarry was adapted for film, with screenplay by Galgut, direction by Marion Hansel, and starring John Lynch.
South African author Damon Galgut's fifth novel, The Good Doctor, was his first to be published in the United States. Booklist contributor Allison Block said that it "possesses the economy and pace of Hemingway and the lyrical grace of Graham Greene." Set in Galgut's homeland after the end of apartheid, it is the story of two doctors working at a rural hospital. Frank Eloff, the son of a famous physician, has left Johannesburg and a very privileged life for the hinterland after his wife abandoned him for his partner and best friend. He now heads the team that sees almost no patients, and when they do, they have neither the skills nor equipment to treat them, resulting in the patient being sent somewhere else. Dr. Ruth Ngema, the director of the hospital, does not press for improvements or the replacement of stolen items because she is waiting for a transfer out and does not want to jeopardize her chances of being placed in a better situation.
When Laurence Waters, a young doctor just out of medical school arrives to begin his one-year mandatory community service tour, he is shocked by the conditions and resolves to reengage the staff by setting up community clinics, which become quite successful. Nation reviewer Claire Messud wrote that "as the plot unfolds in a series of minor lies, missteps, and naive presumptions, what emerges is that neither Laurence nor Frank is equipped to tackle this country that is supposedly theirs, and that in spite of their vast differences—the differences between one generation and the next, in a nation reconceived—they will always have more in common with each other than with anyone else around them. While Laurence insists obsessively on his friendship with Frank, the latter is painfully equivocal, but he is also unable to deny their bond."
Crime and corruption continue to fester, however. When soldiers arrive at the hospital, insisting they are there to find drug dealers and monitor the border, Frank is forced to revisit his past when he discovers these forces are led by a commander named Moller, under whom he had served in the apartheid army. Frank, who has a black mistress, is shaken when Maria disappears after an abortion, and realizes that the illiterate woman means more to him than he had come to realize. Tim Stafford wrote in Books & Culture that Galgut "is an original talent. He writes in a way reminiscent of his fellow South African J. M. Coetzee and more of the transplanted Pole Joseph Conrad. Dostoevsky or Graham Greene may even come to mind. Ultimately, though, Galgut is no more like them than one fevered dream is to another. In tense, hypnotic prose, he probes the new South Africa and finds that it bears striking resemblance to the old South Africa. Cynicism, greed, brutality, and listlessness still dominate the scene. Ideals are slender, naive, awkward. They cannot comprehend the darkness." Stafford further noted that Galgut himself felt that "this was a story without a resolution—maybe even without a theme. I was only here to learn again how much I didn't know and would never understand."
"That is a terrible thing to say about Africa," continued Stafford, "where the abyss of chaos and destruction is so close. Galgut has written his own version of Heart of Darkness, shining a light into the shadow and discovering that his batteries are dead. Who could prove him wrong? By the evidence, Galgut has every right to his doubts. AIDS, crime, and corruption do seem the strongest forces. Yet he is honest enough to show how love and hope still rise up and torment us." Andrew Iles wrote in the British Medical Journal that The Good Doctor "may be set in South Africa, but it addresses issues common to medicine everywhere—the notion of personal gain and the motivation behind morality."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2004, Allison Block, review of The Good Doctor, p. 822.
Books & Culture, March-April, 2004, Tim Stafford, review of The Good Doctor, p. 12.
British Medical Journal, October 25, 2003, Andrew Iles, review of The Good Doctor, p. 994.
Economist, September 20, 2003, review of The Good Doctor, p. 81.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of The Good Doctor, p. 1240.
Lancet, December 20, 2003, Phil Whitaker, review of The Good Doctor, p. 2130.
Library Journal, January, 2004, Amy Ford, review of The Good Doctor, p. 155.
Nation, April 5, 2004, Claire Messud, review of The Good Doctor, p. 29.
New Statesman, September 29, 2003, Phil Whitaker, review of The Good Doctor, p. 79; October 13, 2003, Jason Cowley, "Despite a Booker Nomination and a Nobel Prize, These Writers, Unheard in Their Own Land, Feel Oppressed by Emptiness," p. 22.
Newsweek International, October 6, 2003, Ginanne Brownell, "South Africa's Growing Pains," p. 66.
Spectator, September 27, 2003, Stephen Abell, review of The Good Doctor, p. 58.*