Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Country Doctor's Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov (3.5/5)

First published: 1925, 1926, 1927, 1975
Original title: Записки юного врача
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Michael Glenny, 1975

Page count: 158

The back says: Brilliant stories that show the growth of a novelist's mind, and the raw material that fed the wild surrealism of Bulgakov's later fiction.

With the ink still wet on his diploma, the twenty-five-year-old Dr. Mikhail Bulgakov was flung into the depths of rural Russia which, in 1916-17, was still largely unaffected by such novelties as the motor car, the telephone or electric light. How his alter-ego copes (or fails to cope) with the new and often appalling responsibilities of a lone doctor in a vast country practice — on the eve of Revolution — is described in Bulgakov's delightful blend of candid realism and imaginative exuberance.

I say: In some ways I loved this, and in others was a tad disappointed, which has more to do with my expectations than the stories themselves. These are nine short stories that Bulgakov wrote about his experiences as a young doctor being sent out to work in a remote location in 1916-18. In the introduction Michael Glenny says that they were published serially between 1925 and 1927 in two monthlies, one general and one medical. Bulgakov intended to publish them in a separate book entitled The Notes of a Young Doctor, but unfortunately passed away before doing so. 6 of the stories were published in 1966 in an edition of Bulgakov's Collected Prose, and the additional 3 stories were translated from photostats of copies of the medical journal by Glenny and published in 1975.

Basically, it’s a semi-biographical work.

I am not a squeamish person, which is a good thing because there were a few maladies described that were less than pleasant. Bulgakov mixes medical jargon (of the time) with humorous remarks, excursions and descriptions, making this a lighter read than it could have been without infringing on the seriousness. He is a new doctor who soon realises that he knows next to nothing about the problems that the villagers bring, and even runs off to his office to consult his medical books while the patient is waiting in the operating room.

Knowing that this is based on his real experiences makes me love and respect him even more.

That being said, what I really missed here was the absurd that Bulgakov brings to his works, the real reason I fell in love with him. Naturally, the absurd has little room in stories like these. Also, they were written in the 1920’s before illness caused him to abandon his medical career.

3.5/5 and I will re-read these at some point (which is a given with Bulgakov).
*The copy that I have is an issue by Fontana from 1976 and I couldn't find the cover online, so the picture above is of the DVD of the TV series based on these short stories called A Young Doctors's Notebook starring Daniel Radcliffe (whom we adore) and Jon Hamm. And now that I have finally read it, I shall watch it (and hopefully not be disappointed).

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