[14 April 2008]
As part of my audio book musings I’d like to note that one series which caught my eye at my local library is Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. l Ladies’ Detective Agency a few weeks back. Four neat installments were smartly packaged in different colors and all neatly lined up in the CD section, drawing my attention. Not yet familiar with the series (turns out it’s quite a popular one) I picked one up and just then a patron came in so I returned to the circulation desk. She coincidentally returned one of the paperback versions of the series so naturally I inquired about it. At her recommendation I found the first in the series and checked it out—the audio versions being of later segments and the first installment being necessary for setting up the background of the series.
These books are sheer fun—set in present-day Bostwana and centering around the practical and clever Precious Ramotswe, a private detective (the only such lady in the whole country, she is proud to say) who is determined to “help people with the problems in their lives.” Of course there are little mysteries that Mma Ramotswe must use her sharp wits to solve, but even better are the frequent comments about particular aspects of Africa in general and Bostwana in particular that she often gives. “She loved her country, Botswana, which is a place of peace, and she loved Africa, for all its trials.” There are constant cups of strong Bush tea to be had while Mma Ramotswe calmly sits and ponders the wonders of the landscape that surrounds her, or the latest scandal involving someone-or-other’s daughter or husband and their misplaced affections or occasionally missing person. So far none of these investigations have taken more than a few days to wrap up, leaving Mma Ramotswe more time to help the reader come to admire Botswana and its people as well.
Equally at home in the governor’s mansion or a witch-doctor’s impoverished hut, Mma Romatswe is a very likeable character, sensible in her morality and practical in her methods. McCall Smith has an easy style of writing and comes across as very authentic in his knowledge of this part of the world. Indeed, on his website he writes that he tries to visit Botswana every year because he likes it so much:
I suppose that the main reason [I write about Botswana] is that I find Botswana a very interesting and admirable country. I respect the people who live there—they have built up their country very carefully and successfully. I admire their patience and their decency.
McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe, taught law at the University of Botswana, and more recently Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, the city where he continues to reside though his writing has been so successful that he is able to dedicate himself to the venture full time and no longer teaches. He is currently on a book tour in the US following the March 2008 of the latest installment in The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and the Easter release on BBC television of The No.1 film.
I, for one, having just discovered this entertaining living author, will continue to look for his work at my local library. I checked out two of the audio books in the series just this weekend and got started immediately with The Full Cupboard of Life.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/window-into-botswana/