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on 21 November 2012
Sometimes serendipity plays a role in the book that you have chosen to read. A day or two after I picked up this book of short stories from the shelf, I spotted in the underground an advertisement for a TV show featuring none other than Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm. The show called A Young Doctor's Notebook is based on this very book I am just about to write about. Apparently both Hamm and Radcliffe are HUGE fans of Bulgakov; the former singlehandedly drove the TV project forward while the latter even went on a Bulgakov pilgrimage to Russia on his 21st birthday! [...]

Across town, Complicite's stage version of The Master and Margarita is returning to the Barbican - while I missed it the first time, I don't plan to this time. I've seen a couple of other stage versions of Bulgakov's works - the splendid National Theatre production of The White Guard a few years ago, and at the other end of the scale, Moliere at the Finborough, as bijou as the NT show was grand. I wish I'd known my Red Revolution and Civil War history a little better BEFORE I saw The White Guard but I had to wait for a few years and Mr Bruce Lincoln to put that to rights. But better late than never, as they say.

What's charming about this particular book is the self-deprecation, the ironic humour of the young narrator. Bulgakov is just a callow young doctor straight out of medical school when he is farmed out to Muryovo, a village based on a real-life posting in the western borderlands where Mother Russia melts away into Belarus and Ukraine. Here the doctor, with grim determination scooped out of despair, fights the forces of darkness, ignorance and superstition, usually represented by the elemental forces of nature: driving snow, fierce storms, relentless blizzards. On the doctor's side are the puny but indomitable causes of science, reason and enlightenment - a solitary lamp shining in Bulgakov's room, another stubborn one hanging outside his small village hospital.

There are early victories - a successful amputation, a windpipe replacement for a diphtheria-stricken child, a complicated delivery, even a plague of syphilis. Each of these ills the young doctor counters with cussedness, competence, humility and a little luck. The results surprise him as much as they win the admiration and custom of villagers for miles around. At the end of the first year, he has seen no fewer than 15,613 patients, and by that time the outside world - the above mentioned revolution and civil war - has started to impinge on this rural anti-idyll. The names of Kerensky and Petliura appear, the same Kerensky who is buried in a parish church in southwest London, just a few miles from where I am typing this.

This is, in sum, a lovely book by a fine writer, told in the most attractive of narrative voices, and one that will transport you to the vanished rural Russia that the Bolsheviks wrestled away from the Tsars and the Whites. Bring on the TV show and the booming book sales!
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on 4 April 2016
Very interesting and well written book based on a young inexperienced Russian doctor in the countryside 100 years ago , no electricity ,no telephones , no vehicles ,what a hard life with only an experienced nurse to assist , quite amazing how well he coped ,
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on 30 March 2014
Bought this for my husband, he is found of Russian literature. He enjoyed it very much. I have now started reading it, finished first story last night. Very interesting and immediately shows the immense gap between the classes at that time. It is a very small book and will probably get through the other stories very quickly, hope they are as enjoyable as the first.
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on 15 January 2013
Like the Russian weather, Russian novels have a reputation for inducing fear and respect in equal measure.
Anyone who's ever tackled a tome such as Dostoyevsky's `Crime and Punishment' or Grossman's `Life and Fate' will testify that such works of art require patience and perseverance. But the experience is always rewarding and well worth the effort.

But if you've never read a `heavy' classic and would like a gentler literary introduction to the beautiful, enigmatic and captivating land of Russia, there's plenty on offer.
`A Country Doctor's Notebook' is one example of an accessible, short and enjoyable Russian read that has stood the test of time.

Written by Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940), the book reflects the author's experience as a young doctor in pre-revolutionary Russia and is largely semi-autobiographical.

A Country Doctor's Notebook gives an account - through a series of short chapters - of a trainee doctor in the rural Russia. Through beautiful writing, the author conveys rich images of the Russian countryside, where the snow-covered landscapes are dotted with remote villages and life has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

In this austere land of biting blizzards, peasants relied on superstition - and vodka - as allies in their daily battle for survival. It's no surprise therefore, that Bulgakov had plenty of rich material to draw from in writing his book.

But in `A Country Doctor's Notebook', there's not room for sentimentality. The author portrays life in the raw, where a person's existence hangs in the balance. And even a doctor is not guaranteed safety from the travails of rural Russia.

In one harrowing chapter, simply entitled `Morphine', Bulgakov describes a fictional young Dr Polyakov and his descent into drug addiction. The hapless Polyakov first experiments with morphine, then cocaine before returning back to morphine. But neither drug brings any peace of mind.

In this chapter, Bulgakov uses intellect, insight and compassion to convey the realities of addiction, and how the individual can be destroyed by it. But he's careful not to apportion blame - being a former morphine addict himself, Bulgakov knew his subject matter well.

A Country Doctor's Notebook is a classic read and I'd recommend it to anyone with a love of literature. With its earthy and uncompromising style, the narrative resonates long after you've put it down.
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on 31 May 2010
A series of short stories about life as a junior doctor in rural Russia in 1917/8. Human frailties and compassion shine out in the darkness of the Russian winter. The great events in St Petersburg and Moscow, with their electric light and trams and revolutionaries, might be on another planet.

Famous for his "White Guard", and the play version of it which was Stalin's favourite play, Bulgakov is very funny, in a dry wit observer sort of way. One wonders what Stalin, who reputedly never laughed, found in Bulgakov?
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on 1 September 2014
Wonderful prose with a great sense of immediacy, fascinating narratives and background; Bulgakov takes the reader into the world he describes and creates interesting characters and situations. The voice of the young doctor, with his pride, vanity band plunges into self doubt, is brilliant.
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on 15 January 2013
Bulgakov work has only recently become known to me, and I feel this semi-autobiographical depiction of life in a far-flung hospital in revolutionary Russia is his best.

At times sad, it combines elements of farce and humour whilst also dealing with the loneliness of the human psyche and the creative and mysterious country patients ailments and quirks.

I would also recommend the DVD "A Young Doctor's Notebook" which recently adapted elements of this book into a four part Sky Arts series. Wonderful acting by Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe portraying the old and young doctor.
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on 2 March 2013
Unusually both my husband and I enjoyed this book - we have fairly different tastes as a rule. Though it ticks lots of bad boxes for me: medicine, cold, loneliness, poverty, it was a fantastic read - fascinating and every story had you wondering what the outcome would be.
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on 6 December 2013
I loved this book! Each chapter consists of a different anecdote, making it the perfect book to enjoy during a tea or dinner break ... though I found it hard not to read on. The situations that the doctor found himself him were horrific, yet he wrote with humour, and his descriptions of the natural world are beautiful.
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on 22 October 2009
I have read other novels by the author, but this is an insight into his early life as a doctor. You can see where some of his stange images in his novels come from. Makes you appreciate the NHS!
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