Using a sharply realistic and humorous style, Bulgakov reveals his doubts about his own competence and the immense burden of responsibility, as he deals with a superstitious and poorly educated people struggling to enter the modern age. This acclaimed collection represents some of Bulgakov’s most personal and insightful observations on youth, isolation and progress.
I have watched one episode of the television programme, but I wanted to read the real thing before I watched any further. I expected it to be a more difficult read than it turned out to be, and I positively flew through some stories.
I loved the young doctor, and totally understood his fears and self doubt. Bulgakov perfectly captures how frightening it would be to be in his situation. He’s a 23 year old man in a remote area, responsible for the lives of thousands of people who don’t understand their own health. He’s combating the old wives tales, the cold, the farm machinery, the animals and the transport. He’s unsure of his own knowledge and is anxious not to lose a patient due to his lack of experience. That’s a lot to put on a young man!
Bulkakov was in the same position as a young doctor. He writes his character so well because he isn’t writing a character- he’s writing himself. Dr Bomgard is an extension of Bulgakov’s own experience.
Each story revolves around a central theme, such as pregnancy or syphilis. I enjoyed his writing style and his assumption that the reader at least knows the basics of modern medicine. Even then, some of the cures, such as rubbing mercury cream onto a syphilitic rash made me cringe hard!
His experiences with dealing with sheer human stupidity and stubbornness are some of the hardest parts to read. Mothers and fathers mocking him for insisting on treatment for their child’s syphilis is one example. Another is a mother and grandmother refusing to treat their child for advanced diphtheria, simply because they don’t listen to his explanation and want to continue folk remedies that have brought her close to death. Bomgard is almost driven to distraction by the behaviour of peasants, and I really couldn’t blame him!
The cold is also a constant companion to the young doctor, and the threat of dying if caught in a blizzard whilst on a house call is a very real possibility. I’ve never been to Russia, but I can imagine how frightening a big blizzard would be.
I really enjoyed this short story collection, and will probably have a read of The Master and Margarita in the near future!