Doing one’s best in Botswana

Aficionados of fine wine and food speak of cleansing the palate so that their tastes will be fresh and clear, enabling them to fully appreciate whatever it is they are going to experience next.

I find myself thinking of reading the latest novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series as a cleansing of the mental and emotional palate. I read a lot of books, mostly fiction but some nonfiction, and many of them deal with sobering and sometimes depressing subject matter.

Reading a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book is refreshing. These improbable books, set in modern-day Botswana, are uplifting and life-affirming, without in any way being shallow or glib. They remind me that, yes, there are terrible forces and evil people in the world, but there also is much that is good. Once I’ve read the latest novel about Mma Ramotswe and company, I’m ready for whatever the literary world might throw at me.

By Linda C. Brinson

THE LIMPOPO ACADEMY OF PRIVATE DETECTION. By Alexander McCall Smith. Pantheon. 257 pages. $24.95.

Mma Precious Ramotswe is feeling the weight of her world on her shoulders. Things are not going right in several areas of her life.

Fanwell, the young apprentice at her husband’s garage, Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, is in trouble with the law, the victim of an unscrupulous friend. Mma’s husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, has tried to help, hiring a lawyer to represent Fanwell in court. But the lawyer, to whom he has already paid a significant amount of money, turns out to be incompetent.

Worse still, their good friend Mma Potokwane has been dismissed from her position as head of the orphan farm. Obviously, the man who maneuvered her dismissal must have some nefarious motives, but how can Mma Ramotswe figure out what is wrong and save her friend’s job? Complicating matters, Mma Potokwane seems to have lost her will to fight.

Mma’s assistant at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – the only such agency in Botswana – is eager to help, even if she has never gotten along with Fanwell in the past. But Mma Grace Makutsi has worries of her own, as her new husband begins to suspect that the builder of their dream home isn’t completely on the up and up.

When Mma Ramotswe is honest with herself, which she usually is, she realizes that even this list of problems is insignificant when weighed against the woes of people who have no home or those who are suffering from the terrible disease that is causing so much heartache and death in Africa. But these are nonetheless problems that need to be addressed.

Fortunately, help is at hand. Clovis Andersen, the American who wrote the book on private detecting on which she has based all her work, miraculously shows up at her doorstep. With his help, maybe solutions are possible.

Before the book’s end, the problems threatening the orderly, good life in Botswana are under control. The major remaining question is who has helped whom more, but that is a good kind of question.

Once again, Mma Ramotswe reminds us that though neither the world nor anyone in it is perfect, “what mattered most was doing your best and then, if your best turned out to be not very good, at least admitting it and trying a bit harder the next time.”

Of course, as the wise lady well knows, some people don’t try their best and are just not very good people. That is why there needs to be a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to make things right.

Reading this book will help make things right for you, at least for a time, and give you a respite from the weight of your world.




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