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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

BOOKS: The Kalahari Typing School for Men

As The Kalahari Typing School for Men leaves me but one more novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, I am beginning to miss them already. Where else will I find delightful passages like this: “Roads…were a country’s showcase. How people behaved on roads told you everything you needed to know about the national character.” Makes me ruminate on California car chases, road rage, and the guy who drives on the shoulder to move up in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Nevertheless, this novel, a little slower in pace than the previous ones, continued the good sense, good feelings and great development of character.

Star of this novel is Mma Makutsi whose ambition and talent has her grow in independence. Needing more money and desiring more recognition, she decides to open her own business. The managerial skills she demonstrates at the No. 1 Detective Agency and the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors lead her on new paths and to new relationships. Mma Makutsi finally comes into her own.

Precious Ramatswe’s most intriguing case reiterates her faith in the basic goodness of people and in traditional values. Plagued with a guilty conscience, a client seeks to right the wrongs of his youth, and it is up to Precious to find the victims, explain, and to help the anxious sinner select appropriate ways to repay those he wronged.

Her kid-glove treatment of each participant reinforces the warm feeling I have for this character. Her wisdom is inherent, but she is smart enough to know when she needs help.

Remember, she has two orphaned children living with her, and she has no experience as a mother. She returns to the orphanage for advice from the woman dedicated to doing her best for these children, and as a result, Mma Ramatswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni make the moves to lovingly correct a potentially bad situation.

Even in a small country like Botswana, competition can make life tough. A chauvinist male opens a competing detective agency and derides the women as incompetent. He advertises that a man can do it better. Not only did he raise Mma Ramatswe’s ire, but also he raised mine. I was anxious to see how this bit of trouble resolved itself.

I’d like to leave you with this thought. While Precious Ramatswe & Co. extol the “traditional values” of their country, they are, by far, the most modern and progressive characters one can imagine. In moving forward, one need not leave the past behind. Therein lies the utter charm of this series as well as a multitude of reasons to smile at the thought of Botswana and Africa.

I hope that when I read the final book of the series, I find Alexander McCall Smith has tied up all the loose ends—happily. Precious Ramatswe, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Mma Makutsi, the children, the two apprentices—all have entered my heart, and I will hate to let go.
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