I’d been meaning to read this book since high school, when my English teacher Ms. Grenier read us a few hilarious excerpts in class. I even got so far as taking the book out of the library not once, but twice. Still, it took me upwards of six years to get around to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. All I can say is, I’m glad I’ve finally arrived.
Mma Precious Ramotswe is a smart, shrewd, modern and secretly hilarious Motswana (i.e. Botswanan) woman who decides to open a detective agency. Following are the episodic happenings related to her line of work. Sometimes they are funny; sometimes they are sad. Every few chapters presents a new case, together with the development of further overarching story lines that help bring the whole thing together. The narrative jumps around a bit, from this person’s point of view to that – but mostly we stay put in Mma Ramotswe’s mind and memories. This is no easy feat, considering the writer is an old Scottish man who is actually a professor of medical law! (Granted, he was born in Africa and obviously has a soft spot for it.) The fact that McCall Smith was able to get inside an African woman’s head and relay her voice so clearly speaks to his amazing talent. Add to that his perfect capture of the sadness/beauty dichotomy that is Africa, and you have the perfect beginner’s introduction to African literature.
So what else can I say without giving away too much of the mysteries? How about I hook you with a few quotes, the way I was first convinced I should get into this fun series? I only hope, if you’re interested, that it doesn’t take you six years to pick it up.
“There was so much suffering in Africa that it was tempting just to shrug your shoulders and walk away. But you can’t do that, she thought. You just can’t.”
“Then, just past the Mochundi turnoff, the sun came up, rising over the wide plains that stretched away towards the course of the Limpopo. Suddenly it was there, smiling on Africa, a slither of golden red ball, inching up, floating effortlessly free of the horizon to dispel the last wisps of morning mist.”
About the “big problems of life”:
“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you reason for going on. Pumpkin.”
And one last thing to make you laugh:
“She felt terribly sorry for people who suffered from constipation, and she knew that there were many who did. There were probably enough of them to form a political party – with a chance of government perhaps – but what would such a party do if it was in power? Nothing, she imagined. It would try to pass legislation, but would fail.”