I haven’t once heard or read about Botswana until the novel The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.
My thoughts swerved from “Uh, there’s such a country?” then “that sounds interesting.”
The book, simple and relatable at best, has always been meaningful as I was able to get to know the country beyond facts and figures: It was through a wonderful, laid-back narration on how the ‘Batswana’ lead humble, honorable, and rich lives. People who like to take their time well and talk over hot red bush tea. It feels home without having ever stayed there.
Precious Ramotswe, our proud traditionally-built protagonist, is the only female detective in Botswana. She’s the daughter of the remarkable, honorable cattle raiser Obed Ramotswe. Just like his father, her positive outlook and kindness, if not paramount, is genuine.
It’s admirable because he narrates with overwhelming warmth without being exaggerated. While it is easy to be cynical with people who put your morale to the test, hers is heart that always tries to understand people to their core, their tendencies and frailties.
Although McCall’s writing is criticized for sounding Utopian, he chooses to emphasize the silver lining in a chaotic world. Many are already doing well communicating the real problems of the world: poverty, genocide, food shortage, diseases. The horrible stuff. He would not want to amplify that. Rather, he’s acutely aware of these problems that he intends to paint hope in the background.
In the most difficult of circumstances, it is as if he can ease them all with tea and conversation. If words could heal, it had cured all the hurt in this world. His positive spirit incredibly rubs off on you.
I wish to visit Botswana someday. Luckily, though, McCall Smith has already taken me there since book one.