When my volunteer supervisor at Ten Thousand Villages found out that I was applying for a three-month placement in Gaborone, Botswana she told me that I had to read the Alexander McCall Smith series that was set there. Of course I was excited, but didn't set my expectations too high that the stories told in the novels would be anything like actual life in Botswana. I read "The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency" before I left for Gaborone and instantly fell in love with Mma (Precious) Ramotswe. I only hoped that the country with which her character was in love would be half as delightful as she described it to be. Upon arriving in Botswana, I shortly came to realise that the daily life, customs, and traditions explained in the novel were identical to those that I was experiencing with each new day I spent in the country. Much like Mma Ramotswe, I have come to love this country; its peacefulness; its kindness. To think that when I started reading the novel, I didn't even know how to pronounce 'Mma' properly and now I find myself speaking the word at least ten times a day.
"The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency", while adding an element of mystery to the plot, remains true to the typical lifestyle of the Batswana (people who live in Botswana). Mma Ramotswe's cases include a wife who suspects her husband is being unfaithful, a father concerned that his daughter is engaging in secret meetings with boys, a doctor who seems to have a split personality, and most captivating of all, a missing boy who is suspected to have succumbed to the hands of traditional witchdoctors. Mma Ramotswe's sleuthing skills are limited, but her willingness to learn and intuitive nature always work together to enable her to solve the case.
As a final thought I will add that I didn't find this novel very well written in relation to many other pieces of literature I have come across, but that doesn't particularly seem to matter. The characters, most specifically Mma Ramotswe herself, and Smith's knowledge of the culture embedded in Botswana are what make this novel a light and wonderful read.
If you ever plan to travel to Botswana, would like to learn a little about this gem of Africa, or just want a nice heartwarming story to pick up, "The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency" is the book for you!