Kalahari Typing School for Men
Alexander McCall Smith
Alfred A Knopf
the fourth outing for McCall Smith in the Botswana Ladies Detective
Agency. It is a sweet gem of a novel. Less a piece of detective
fiction, it is more a microcosmic portrait of contemporary life
in Gaborone, or more precisely, a ideal remembrance of what life
used to be like in Gaborone. McCall Smith was raised in Zimbabwe
and taught law of the University of Botswana before moving to Scotland.
lead character Precious Ramotswe is a tradionaly built but very self-centred
and happy woman who is fortunate enough to own her own home on Zebra
Drive and run a small Detective agency at the back of her fiancés
car repair business. At every turn we learn about what daily life is
like in this African country that runs parallel to South Africas
McCall Smiths people are wonderful inventions of course and it
is rewarding to read a novel full of all-black characters in their own
country who are also complete masters of their own lives.
The plot is slight. A rival detective agency has started up The
Satisfaction Guaranteed Agency and there really is not room for
two agencies in this small city. Her adopted kids are playing up at
home, her fiancé hasnt actually set a wedding date and
her assistant, the very efficient Mma.Makutsi is in need of a husband.
Thats it. You dont actually need more plot than that as
the book is all about ritual, the daily moments of the lives if these
people. Hope, aspirations, disappointments and just taking time to drink
bush tea, there is no moment wasted, even though very little is happening.
The apprentices are mildly naughty in the workshop, the clients arent
murderers or in need of flashy lawyers, they are just people who made
mistakes and want to put things right; or married women looking for
errant husbands; something that keeps the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency
in rent year after year.
You get to know Mma. Ramotswe very well and her inner thoughts and feel
the very heat that bears down on Botswana. You can also trace some influences
from other writers who have made Africa the base for their fiction.
whose South African Afrikaner detective and his Zulu sidekick Zondi
made such entertaining reads twenty years ago with The Steam Pig
and 'Song Dog' and around a seventy years ago Herman Charles Bosman
whose short stories about the Boers and Africans were so pithily well
drawn and funny (or tragic) you can instantly recall their personalities
and daily minutiae. McCall Smith has recreated Bosmans world (without
any of the racial insensitivities that were the unconscious part of
his stories) that also criss-crossed the Kalahari. He has the same knack
of telling a simple story that feels like a confidence shared and a
vivid technique to bring these characters alive.
There just isnt enough authentic fiction about Southern Africa
and its peoples available in print in Canada. Its not just a wonderful
place to read about, but exciting and fresh to experience life that
is outside the common experience and for most readers, Africa is far
outside their radar.
Well told, often amusing The Kalahari Typing School for Men
is worth seeking out as is 'The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency', the first
of these stories.
The sheer delight of the language and the timelessness of the stories
will quickly captivate you.
© Sam North May 18th 2003
The No1 Ladies Detective
At the Villa Of Reduced Circumstances
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Published Aug 2004
all rights reserved