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A country doctor by

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I was in great difficulty.
–Franz Kafka - The Country Doctor, c. 1919

Translated by Ian Johnston ; read Online at Franz Kafka online

A doctor is needed, but he has no transport. It is winter, he has no horse to harness to his buggy. His own is dead, and no one else will risk their own animals on a journey of ten miles or more in the snow and ice. He has sent his servant girl out searching, but has very little hope. Suddenly, out of his own abandoned pig-sty a man crawls, followed by two horses. The doctor can leave. But the groom immediately bites Rose, the servant girl on the cheek. He says he will not be going but will stay behind with Rose. The doctor protests but can do nothing as before he knows it the horses are galloping off and he is in the farm where his patient awaits.

If that all seems a bit crazy to you, well, you might have some understanding of how it feels to read this story. It is short. There are no explanations for anything. One thing happens. Then something changes and another happens. Is it all a dream? is the doctor hallucinating from exposure standing out in the cold of winter? Is the groom a strange sort of representation of what the doctor wants to do?

The only answer I can give is maybe. There is no way to know. Reading it the first time I was totally lost. It made no sense to me. So I reread it. It still didn’t seem to make much sense, only after watching the lecture on the story did it really start to fall into place.

But even when I didn’t understand it I still liked it. I think I may be turning into a fan of Kafka, even if he is terribly depressing.

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2 Comments

  • 7 July 2013 - 6:47 pm | Permalink

    I actually love so-called depressing stories ('so-called' because I find them the opposite), but only if they're written by masterful authors… I read The Metamorphosis years ago and remember liking it a lot, but that's where I stopped with Kafka; I think, based on your review of this story, I'll try more of his stuff. A man crawls out of a pig sty? The groom bites Rose on the cheek?? OH YEAH. I'm there already.

    Recently, I discovered a wonderful writer of the deep and dark named Dan Chaon, and he has quickly become one of my favorites. If you're interested in trying him, you might want to start with his book of short stories, Stay Awake. He considers Ray Bradbury a mentor. I found him when I read Shadow Show, an anthology of stories reminiscent of Bradbury, written by well-regarded authors (including Neil Gaiman) in honor of him. It was an excellent anthology!

    Obviously, I'm on a jag. :) I just started reading Ray Bradbury Stories: 100 of Bradbury's Most Celebrated Tales. Despite the dark nature of many of his stories (and some of them DO produce the most delicious shivers!), they still contain a life-affirming ebullience, a kind of effervescent joy that–it seems–only Bradbury could pull off so proficiently. I've never read another author like him; he was utterly unique. It's been fun to revisit some of the old stories and discover quite a few new ones!
    Kelly´s last blog post ..The Sound of One Fan Clapping
    Kelly´s last blog post ..The Sound of One Fan Clapping

    • 13 July 2013 - 5:22 pm | Permalink

      I think I might have mentioned it before, but Ray Bradbury is someone I really need to read more of. I read some of his stories for the sci-fi course I did last year, and really liked them, but have yet to get around to more.

      I'll have to give Dan Chaon a try at some point too.

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