Not since The Spy Who Came in From the Cold has John le Carre written a book that will bring a tear or two to your eyes. The Constant Gardener is such a book. It tells of the murder of the wife of a British diplomat in Kenya and the horrific conspiracy behind it. And the conspiracy is not one that has been made up by the author to sell his books in large numbers or to get the reading junta emotional. It is very much real and probably tells us what is happening in the poor African countries and how rich nations are basically exploiting the poor in the name of giving them aid.
The story begins with the wife of a serving British diplomat in Kenya, Tessa Quayle, being murdered along with her advisor, friend and mentor, Dr. Bluhm. The initial response of the British High Commission in Nairobi is to sweep the matter under the carpets. But after going through his wife’s notes which she had hidden from him, Justin realises that the murder was not a one-off incident but rather a part of a much larger conspiracy involving not only the local Kenyan politicians but also the members of the British Foreign Office in Kenya and in London.
Justin uncovers a deadly conspiracy involving a big pharmaceutical company-KVH which has joined hands with another company, ThreeBees, to market their product in Africa. The particular product in question is Dypraxa, a possible cure to Tuberculosis. What Tessa and Dr. Bluhm find is shocking. Inspite of the preliminary tests of the drug showing it as safe, the aid workers argue that it has been put into the market too fast, probably without 4-5 years of extensive testing. The result is that the African patients, particularly women, are being used as guinea pigs with devastating effects. The drug is adversely affecting the women, with nausea, vomiting, liver failure being the recurring symptoms in all the cases, ultimately leading to death. These pharma companies have also paid off the local politicians and health officials with the result being that there is no record whatsoever of these patients having ever existed.
Justin uncovers several reports written by Tessa to the British Office in London indicating the compliance of several British officers in this conspiracy and requesting them to take action. Justin eventually escapes from the eyes of the British Foreign Office in London and travels to Italy, Switzerland and Canada hoping to complete his wife’s investigation and get to the bottom of the whole matter. Over the course of his interviews with several people, including a co-founder of the drug, he discovers the length to which the rich countries go to maintain their supremacy at the top chiefly by exploiting the poor. All the top scientists in the particular field of the drug have been paid off to write positive comments in scientific journals so that no bad news of the drug come to the knowledge of most of the scientific domain. The reports of drug trials in Africa have been manipulated. Also the drugs that are being shipped to Africa as a part of the “aid packages” are only six months to their expiry date, are developed as a part of research that is atleast thirty years old and are sold at 3-4 times the price compared to that in the US. Plus these rich countries impose sanctions on any other country that try to make similar drugs, albeit at a much lower cost with the result that the Africans have to pay more for drugs that don’t work.
Justin ultimately succeeds in his resolve to uncover the conspiracy but pays with his life. The world, as it is, goes back to normal with all those who helped Justin in his quest being punished in one way or another and the matter again being swept under the carpets.
John le Carre himself described the events in this book as being “as harmless as a postcard” compared to actual tidings in Africa. Read this book f