Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith

Mma Ramotswe and J.L.B. Matekoni face some pretty big challenges in In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, the sixth book in Alexander McCall Smith's popular No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. A visitor who knows about Ramotswe's past threatens to reveal a mistake she has made, which could harm her reputation and livelihood. To complicate matters, Mma bumps a bicyclist with her beloved minivan. Will her lack of attention while driving lead to a lawsuit? Meanwhile, Matekoni learns that the tenants of his old house are breaking the law, and one of his apprentice mechanics quits the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors after a dispute over a teapot. As the couple's troubles multiply, even their adopted children begin to believe their happiness will soon end.

Not all of the problems are solved by the end of the book. This has happened before in the series. In these books, as in life, we set aside some of our troubles for another day, a time when we may have inspiration for better solutions. Mma Ramotswe does not rush anything. It is not the Botswanan way. It also links the books in the series.

While reading these books, I find many passages that speak to me. I particularly liked the thoughts on page 163:

"There was no doubt in Mma Ramotswe's mind that Botswana had to get back to the values which had always sustained the country and which had made it by far the best country in Africa. There were many of these values, including respect for age - for the grandmothers who knew so much and had seen so much hardship - and respect for those who were traditionally built. It was all very well being a modern society, but the advent of prosperity and the growth of the towns was a poisoned cup from which one should drink with the greatest caution. One might have all the things which the modern world offered, but what was the use of these if they destroyed all that gave you strength and courage and pride in yourself and your country?"

I think that should speak to all of us.

Alexander McCall Smith is a unique force in current literature. I can not think of anyone who is juggling so many series so well. Are McCall Smith read-a-likes being produced? I have not seen them. I await more of his books.

McCall Smith, Alexander. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004. ISBN 0375422714

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