Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

By Alexander McCall Smith
New York, Anchor Books, 2009

Week 15 Fiction

I admit it. I love Precious Ramotswe, and I have for several years. Actually, this is my tenth outing with Precious, her husband Mr. J.L. B. Matekoni, and her assistant Mma Grace Makutsi. My love affair began about ten years ago with the publishing of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, where an eager audience was introduced to Precious and her delightful African way of viewing the world. It has continued with a new adventure every year and more insight into the brilliant and practical Precious and her remarkable understanding of human nature.

Precious is the only lady detective in Gaborone, Botswana—actually the only lady detective in all of Botswana. Her business is composed primarily of helping people through small personal crises, although she sometimes delves into meatier subjects. In this particular volume, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, she investigates the strange losing streak of the local football team and discovers why the saleslady is selling so many beds in the furniture store owned by Mma Makutsi’s fiancĂ©. Precious thinks about solving the mysteries while drinking cup after cup of bush tea, the staple fixture of her life. She also is suffering from the loss of her little white truck, which her husband, an auto mechanic, has deemed unsafe to drive. Bush tea helps with that loss.

What is so amazingly attractive about these books? They are so gentle, so incredibly insightful, and it is so easy to become totally immersed in Precious’ life and the lives of the people around her. It is a look into lives that function in a world quite different from the materialism of the United States, the busy-ness of lives that don’t have time for their neighbors nor the time for a good cup of tea. The reader has time to rest with Precious, to share her morning walks in her garden, and to laugh with Mma Makutsi’s crazy views of the world.

Alexander McCall Smith has a knack for seeing the world through African eyes. He was raised in Rhodesia, and knows Africa intimately, although he now lives in Scotland. He never speaks of HIV/AIDS as such, only of the sickness that has taken so many of the parents of the children in the orphanage that Precious supports. The bush, and the animals, always present in the books, are only peripheral to the plot, just everyday parts of the lives of the residents. Precious and the other characters are exceedingly proud to live in Botswana, one of the most progressive African countries. Smith also understands women. Most of the protagonists in his several series of books are women, and all are interesting, well defined, and spot on.

When my sister and I went on a photo safari to Botswana, we only had two goals: to meet Precious and to share a cup of bush tea! Well, as we got off the plane at Maun Botswana, we were greeted by a lovely young woman named Precious. When we expressed our astonishment, she said, “I know. I get that from every middle-aged woman who comes on safari.” And to add to it, we were given a cup of bush tea as we arrived at our first camp. Our mission was accomplished in the first 24-hours of our trip. The rest of the time in Botswana was just icing on the cake.

Last year, HBO had a six-part series based on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. It was as lovely, gentle, and delightful as the books. Read some of the books first and then watch the series, which is available from Netflix.I highly recommend the Ladies Number 1 Detective Agency books for your summer reading. Begin at the beginning and work your way through the whole series. Your lives will be better because of them.

These books are universally loved, so I have not included a book review in this particular entry, but I have included Alexander McCall Smith’s web address. It is

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