Reviewed by Maria Kabiru
The story is about the life and experiences of Njoroge Maina (alias Joe Maina) who rose from the humble rural areas of Mount Kenya near Nyeri town to become a revered doctor surgeon in the United Kenya Hospital (UKH), an inspirational professor in the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) with an auspicious private practice in Nairobi town once having attained certification. The book is set in the post colonial era of Kenya with clear attempts to bring her out of the ‘mzungu’ supremacy in all facets of development as well as management. The book though based on fiction outlines the problems that were faced by Dr. Joe Maina which everyday people face like anger, revenge, malice, rage, love and psychosis.
In his story Dawood shows us how the Kenyan justice system works as the drama that enfolds surrounding Dr. Joe Maina life since he is put on trial for the attempted murder of Mr. Najib Nassir, and other cases of malpractice since he maimed and / or impaired several patients who underwent his scalpel due to their mistreating of Maina or their disparaging of his lifestyle. He is eventually found not guilty after a lot of furore of the case.
The book guides us as Maina goes through his formative years in the rural Mount Kenya community where his father brought him up as he was going through schooling at the Church School in Nyeri town through the intervention of Father Johnson who saw ‘something special’ in the little lad. Joe Maina used to help out in the church compound as a ‘shamba boy’ where he tended the grounds and the animal farm.
It was also in his formative years that he encountered his first act of kindness albeit from an unlikely source – a shopkeeper, Mr. Patel whom they regularly visited with his father on a weekly basis to get supplies. Patel used to hand Maina a shilling and some sweets every time he would visit with his father Gitau; Patel also found himself under the surgeon’s knife though with a different outcome of survival after free service due to his kindness. At this stage in his life Dr. Maina had his first encounter of manhood after initiation with an unknown village girl in a chance encounter, who turned out to be the mother of his one and only child – Muhoho.
As he was growing up and getting qualified as a surgeon abroad, Joe fell in love with a mzungu lady named Jill whom he met during his internship in Dublin who was also a fellow intern pursuing physiotherapy. Their whirlwind romance was full of love and was mutual as it was ferocious though when he proposed to Jill, her conservative parents refused the union due to the differences in race as well as the distance of his home country; “Marriage is a difficult institution already as it is. Why make it more so by trying to breach the ethnic, colour and cultural divide? I don’t think Jill is equipped to cross all the barriers and take that quantum leap,” as Mr. Harold Hawkins, Jill’s father put it. Mr. Hawkins too came to find himself on Dr. Joe’s table with an inflamed gall bladder, during holiday with his daughter at the Mara. He died on Maina’s table as a result of a torn artery.
His first experience of racism was when a mzungu – Nigel Everard shouted at him to get off the side walk since the mzungu himself was walking on the same sidewalk. The insult stung the innocent Joe and stayed with him till his later years when the Mr. Everard found himself on Dr. Maina’s table for a prostate operation. The outcome was that Mr. Everard would need a catheter for the remainder of his life due to the permanent damage to his sphincter, induced by the doctor.
The next unfortunate patient was Prof. Terblanche who had an obstructed hernia problem and had been recommended to Dr. Maina by his mentor Prof. Kipkorir. The twist of the story is Prof. Terblanche had scorned Joe during his early years while he was pursuing his primary FRCS examinations in Dublin. The Professor had failed Maina by asking him questions about animal embryology which was outside the required syllabus thus Maina ended up repeating a year. This angered the doctor into cutting the arteries which feed blood to the professor’s testicles hence rendering him impotent.
His next victim was the wife of Dr. Odongo – a doctor who had impeded Joe from being accepted into the Muthaiga Golf Club, the most prestigious club at the time due to the possibility of increased competition to Dr. Odongo’s practice. Mrs. Jennifer Odongo had a parotid tumour which was sited near her facial nerve. Dr. Maina accidentally cut an artery and subsequently crushed her facial nerve making the right side of her face paralyzed, making her life as a socialist very difficult.
On the same day as Jennifer Odongo’s case, Dr. Maina also saw Mrs. Desai, the wife of Dr. Desai. She had an inflamed thyroid gland in her neck. As a result of the surgery, Mrs. Desai was left with a permanently hoarse voice thus leaving her unable to continue with her talented job as a singer and dancer, due to her husband’s racism of Dr. Maina, his second discrimination due to racism, displayed by Dr. Desai’s refusal to refer patients to Maina.
The charge of attempted murder was after the transplant kidney operation of Mr. Najib Nassir, fiancé to Matron Ayesha Hyder, Maina’s colleague who had shown repetitive interest in the doctor during their working relationship. Matron Hyder had taken Maina to her room once and had shared several intimate moments with Joe Maina one of which was witnessed by Prof. Kipkorir at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, during official retreats. She scorned him at the last minute due to her impending marriage.
After the operation, Dr. Maina had gone to check on Mr. Nassir in his hospital bed with 3 syringes containing substances which if combined together would be poisonous and immediately kill him. He was found and stopped at the last minute by Prof. Kipkorir together with Nurse Bosibori, while he was doing his rounds in the night. Dr. Maina felt that Nassir was the reason he couldn’t experience love from the woman he would have liked to be with for the rest of his life.
This case was the one which scared Prof. Kipkorir into action to report Joe Maina after he had ascertained the contents of the 3 syringes by his long time friend who is the Kenyan government Chief Pharmacist who also sent specimens to the Institute of Toxicology in Pretoria, South Africa as well as the Department of Forensic Medicine, in the USA. The subsequent action taken was to report him to the governing bodies as well as a criminal case filed against him which had been compounded by the complaints of the other patients permanently injured on Dr. Maina’s table. This was the beginning of the trial and the end of Dr. Maina’s career as a surgeon where he was described as a modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Dr. Joe Maina’s lawyer was Fred Wangai, who was also a director in the UKH board as well as a renowned criminal defence lawyer. He had seen the potential of the case as a reputation booster due to its heightened publicity. The Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) lawyer was Alex Mugo whose job it was to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the acts were done in malice thus requiring Maina to be sent to the gallows. The case was under the docket of Judge Anangwe.
During the trial, Muhoho Koinange, Maina’s son with Muthoni the village girl he had helped, was the one who ended up proving without reasonable doubt that Dr. Njoroge Maina is a social psychopath exhibiting a combination of paranoia, psychopathy and schizophrenia, evidenced in his acts to the various patients whom all had had an impact on Joe at one time or another during the course of his life. Father Johnson, the Catholic priest who had helped Maina with his education as well as his spiritual life, also came to the defence of Maina by citing how he came to get the information about the patients and their resulting problems during an informal confession from Joe Maina when Father Johnson had visited him at the Kamiti Maximum Prison.
Njoroge Maina was subsequently freed due to his innocence as a result of his psychological ailment. He went on to marry the first love of his life Jill Hawkins.
The most memorable characters are Dr. Joe Maina, who in spite of his renowned prowess as a surgeon as well as a great teacher, showed his humanity as he was still haunted by past experiences which made him seek revenge irrespective of stature. Fred Wangai was also another memorable character who despite his dream of being the Chairman of the UKH board, withdrew from the race to pursue the case which would boost his career as a revered lawyer. Father Johnson is also another great character. All through Maina’s life, he helped him without any prejudice in his education as well as to guide him to his spiritual side to make the right decisions. Jill Hawkins was another great example of how true love surpasses all. Even though most of the public blamed her father’s death on Maina, she still held on to her love of Joe and even went on to defend him fiercely in open court in his ability as a surgeon.
The book in my opinion deserved the Jomo Kenyatta prize for Literature as it highlights in detail the true atmosphere in Kenya during the post colonial era making the reader feel part of each and every occurrence as it describes in true detail how the average Kenyan society would react in the different occurrences exhibited by each and every character in the book. The flow of the story keeps one captivated to keep turning one page after another as you feel like you are one of the audiences captivated by Dr. Maina’s experiences in his life with the epitome being the court case against him.
The book will be most appealing to drama thriller revellers mostly in their early professional life as it depicts the norms accepted in the working Kenya environment as well as how to go about your everyday life whilst enjoying youth.