Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

By Alexander McCall Smith

New York, Pantheon Books, 2011

211 pages Fiction

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is the thirteenth book in the hugely successful No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, and it is just as delightful as all the rest.

As in all the books, Precious Ramotswe and her assistant, Grace Makutsi, help the people of Gabarone, Botswana solve small mysteries. Their most common clients are wives looking for wayward husbands and husbands trying to discover if their wives are cheating on them. Precious uses common sense and a book called The Principles of Private Detection by Clovis Anderson to find solutions for her clients.

As I read this installment of the ongoing story, I was struck by several things, not the least of which is its simplicity. McCall Smith has taken a very simple concept, combined it with some outstanding characters, and created small masterpieces with each book. The most exciting thing that happens in this book is that Grace buys a pair of shoes for her wedding and breaks the heels on them as she goes running after what she thinks is Mme Ramotswe’s little white truck which everyone thought had been relegated to the trash heap. Other exciting plot developments include finding out that Charlie, a mechanic at the garage, may be the father of illegitimate twins, and a real case involving a couple of dead cattle.

One might say, “What! This is just a bunch of nonsense. Why read something like that?” And yet, I have to say that I read very few books that I find myself sighing as I close the book for the last time. There are very few book series that I anticipate the next installment so fervently. There are very few books that I plan entire vacation trips around.

In each volume, McCall Smith reminds us of all the virtues and vices that are at play in the daily interaction of ordinary people. Precious, more than anything is a student of human nature. She understands what motivates people and why people fail to live up to expectations. She treats everyone with the respect they deserve, and as she exposes their weaknesses, she leaves them with as much dignity as she can.

Additionally, the books are a tribute to the small country of Botswana and its inhabitants. We know so little of the daily life of Africans; McCall Smith spent his childhood in what is now Zimbabwe and lived for a time in Botswana. He knows African people intimately, and his love of Africa permeates every word of the book.

Precious Ramotswe, Grace Makutsi, and the others are people we would want to know; people with ordinary but interesting lives. I couldn’t help thinking about one of the women in a safari camp where we stayed in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. The young women there as well as the men who drove the mokoros (canoes) were all skilled at weaving baskets. The woman who was the leader of the group at the camp had taught the men to weave. These men were far away from their families during the safari season; they were working there because the money was very good. She had convinced them all that the visitors to the camp would be very interested in their baskets and that they could make additional money if they sold baskets. Of course, we each bought a basket and had our picture taken with its creator.

When we went to the next camp, there were also baskets for sale. I asked the camp manager if he had made any of the baskets. He told me with great derision that making baskets was women’s work, and he wouldn’t be caught dead making baskets. He was a character right out of a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book—a man with an appetite for alcohol and young women. Maybe he will show up in the next installment.

Here is a review I wrote last year for another of the books, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built:

Alexander McCall Smith’s web address:

Here is Alexander McCall Smith talking about The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party:

1 comment: said...

his is an excellent post. I learned a lot about what you talking about. Not sure if I agree with you completely though

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