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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 14 June 2001
This part autobiography, part fictional book is a collection of stories from Bulgakov's experiences as a young, inexperienced doctor in pre-revolution rural Russia. As a new graduate, often still mistaken for a younger boy, Bulgakov conveys his neurotic state with a mixture of images and schizophrenic dialogue with himself. It is so difficult to understand the isolation he feels, to imagine being "32 miles from the nearest electric light." and being responsible for the lives of so many people who flood through his doors. A great deal of the narrative takes place during dark nights, howling winds and blizzards. Its purpose is multifarious; it makes the whole setting more dramatic and allows the hospital to be a prick of light surrounded be darkness, a ray of hope for all around. I feel it also intensifies the isolation. The stresses and strains of such a predicament can take their toll on such a green professional can clearly be seen in the tale named "Morphine". I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would firmly recommend it to anyone. I read "A Country Doctor's Notebook" while looking for a book to write an essay on and this was the eventual winner, beating books of all genres - from Banks to Balzac. I can think of no higher praise.
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on 10 January 2004
I stumbled upon this book by chance when I was browsing the "bargain books" in the one and only English bookstore in Strasbourg. The book is about a young Russian doctor's 1st year as a country doctor in the Northwest part of Russia. It is a collection of many short stories. The writing reflects the author's ability as a play writer - good use of "visual" and "audio" effects such as the description of the weather (which seems to be constantly in a winter blizzard and in the dark) as well as the "tightness" of the writing. The author did not throw out ineffective big words/long sentences to describe the state of mind of the main character in the book, but let the short stories tell the story of the changes which took place inside the young doctor. I could not stop reading until I finished. Advice: do not start reading this book on Sunday evening...
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VINE VOICEon 14 July 2008
This is Bulgakov's own personal journey as a doctor recently graduated and sent to the countryside to practice. This is something that is still common in a number of developing countries and is used both to even up the social balance of city and country and also to provide medical care to those who otherwise would have to do without.

Bulgakov is dispatched and displays all the idealism of a young doctor mixed with the pessimism's of a man who is being sent far from home and the comforts of the city to a place that may as well be a foreign country.

Bulgakov in his usual quiet way exposes the ignorance of the common people and often the incompetence of his own skill. The stories he retells here are both moving and touching, peasants who when given medicine apply it to their outer clothing rather than the skin, a hospital staff who medical skill leaves a lot to be desired.

Bulgakov is humorous as usual and while providing the reader with a book that judging by the cover may be slow and tedious is in fact fast paced, and will leave the reader laughing at times and in disbelief in others.

A wonderful book that should be read.
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on 9 April 2009
I had already read and loved The Master and Margarita when I first saw this book. I was stood in a second hand book shop in Stratford upon Avon and I read 2 pages of this book, utterly captivated I wanted to buy it but had no cash so reluctantly put it back. When I finally got hold of it I was once again charmed by Bulgakov's work. I've since read his other readily available works and I have to say this book, with it's insight into early 19th century rural Russia is one of the man's best. Buy this, you won't regret it.
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on 12 May 2014
WHAT a wonderful read this is, and to think I was prepared to be underwhelmed after his Master And Margarita!
Most of it concerns his days as a doctor, obviously, and managed to make me laugh out loud while being sickened by the surgical descriptions. The last couple of tales are a liitle darker and grimmer (an amazing description of drug addiction, and a murder), but beautifully written. I can only imagine how good this stuff is in the original language, as it is sensational in translation.
Having been addicted to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, I am so glad I gave other Russian writers a chance at last. Both Vasily Grossman and Mikhail Bulgakov have knocked me sideways with their extraordinary writing. I'm starting to wonder if anyone outside of Russia or Ukraine can even come close to the writing that has come out of that part of the world. Seriously, buy it now, and buy everything by both of them!
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on 26 April 2009
This is a fantastic book - a perfect read for anyone interested in Russia. Written by Mikhail Bukgakov, one of Russia's leading writers, it tells a story of a young doctor who is sent to the Russian provinces to practice medicine there.

It's a wonderfully observant account of life in rural Russia complete with almost complete lack of medical knowledge among the locals. Just to give you an example a man complains to his friends, that the young doc isn't that great as he came to see him with throat pain and now he is being hospitalised and has to take loads of medicine and even has to smear onself with a cream everywhere! What he doesn't understand of course is that he has syphilis.

The stories are written from the first person, which makes them even more engaging. And no wonder, Bulgakov, like Chekhov, a doctor himself, had all the nessesary insights into the medical profession in Russia.

A must read!
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I must admit that I have only read The Master and Margarita (Vintage Classics) and The Heart Of A Dog (Vintage Classics) by this author before. As this book is to be shown as a series on Sky though I thought I would read this beforehand.

I should point out that this is a series of nine short stories, and not a novel, also it is well worth reading the introduction here. As those books I have previously read by this author are allegorical, surreal and fantastical I was therefore stunned by the gritty realism in these tales. This book is semi-autobiographical in nature, as Bulgakov was himself a doctor and did practice in a place similar to that mentioned herein. The stories ultimately take place between 1916-17 and concern a newly qualified twenty-four year old doctor on his first major posting. Working in what we would call a cottage hospital he finds the place well equipped and stocked, and with running water. Alas though there is no electricity or telephone, and the area can be precarious for travel come the winter.

Why this works so well is because we can understand and sympathise with the young doctor. Having to carry out major medical procedures without guidance, and the worries over whether he has diagnosed and treated symptoms correctly must be a worry for any doctor, especially so when first qualified. With the descriptions of the winter months and travelling we also get a feel for the area and the isolation that the doctor finds. I should point out that if you are of a nervous disposition then you may not want to read this book, the first story itself describes an amputation, and there are other such scenes throughout.

All in all this is a fascinating book to read in its entirety, it isn't long and is easy to read and will give you a feel for the time Bulgakov was writing about, and what it is like to be a doctor.
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on 19 November 2010
These short stories show Bulgakov at the threshold of his talent and are worth reading but not of the standard of his wonderful read "The Master and Marguerita".
If you have a friend about to embark on a country practice this collection is a must! If only to set the young intern on a path of doubt!! I wish talented authors interspersed humour with reality more often as too often gifted writers stick to gloomy themes. Bulgakov has talent in abundance and interposes wit with dark realism.
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on 13 November 2012
I am a young doctor and this is the best book i have ever received as a present.
In just 80 pages or so plunges you in what it used to be the profession 100 years ago, it is an AUTOBIOGRAPHY of a young doctor sent in the middle of nowhere in Russia around the Bolshevik revolution in 1918. The feelings of the newly graduated doctor, alone in front of the decision that can bring life or death to your is something all doctors have gone through.
And it makes you feel good to realize that...behind the feel unsecure, not actually a very common reaction that will disappear with time.
It leaves you the feeling that after can be a good doctor too one day, even if you feel an idiot sometimes.
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You will know Bulgakov is a genius, this is arguably its first flowering and shows him thinly dressed in fIction, albeit autobiographical fiction with the stress on the former. The tropes are those of a poet though and if, as Wittgenstein thought, that wit, the ability to liken the not obviously kin, was the sin qua non of genius in art and science then here is one ready wit; similarly you see here what T.S. Eliot appreciated in Spinoza, that he feels thought and thinks feelings. In situation and character, I was powerfully reminded of Astrov in 'Uncle Vanya' except here a new qualified physician - albeit Chekhov's doctor is tired with experience - condemned to serve a vast area of late Romanov Russia and feeling inadequate and conveying this and his isolation - in many different respects - with skill and feeling. There is a surprising amount in common between the two great Russian/Ukrainians Chekhov and Bulgakov, though even as early as this book the wilder, poetic humour of Bulgakov is evident. A great writer is already announced. Vastly enjoyable.
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