Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tears of the Giraffe

I began reading the second installment of The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, "Tears of the Giraffe" by Alexander McCall Smith just prior to leaving Canada for Botswana. After reading the first book, Mma Ramotswe had me hooked and I just couldn't stop reading about her marvelous character and the adventures she went on in the country that I was soon to be making my home for nearly four months. In addition to the stories, Smith does a very good job of lightly incorporating aspects of the Batswana way of life. I believe it was in this novel that I learned of the way in which to respectfully greet someone by holding my right elbow with my left hand during a handshake. This was an invaluable piece of knowledge that has stayed with me throughout my time in this country.

As with the first novel, "Tears of the Giraffe" involves a few simple cases in which Mma Ramotswe and her assistant, Mma Makutsi must put their private detective skills to use. In addition to a case of suspected infidelity and an instance of an unprincipled maid, there is a larger case, that of a missing and presumed dead, American man. It is this case that adds the most suspense to the novel as Mma Ramotswe must deal with a group of people who are unwilling to divulge information on the young man's mysterious disappearance many years ago.

Although the actual writing is quite poor in its overly simplistic nature, the development of the characters and the use of traditional African knowledge is what makes "Tears of the Giraffe" worth the read. One noteworthy example comes from the title of the novel itself. While explaining the markings on a traditionally woven basket, a craft that Botswana is known for, Mma Ramotswe explains that giraffes give the crafters their tears to be woven into the baskets. Upon being asked why, she responds: "I suppose that it means that we can all give something...A giraffe has nothing else to give - only tears" (226-7). The novels that comprise The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series are full of heartwarming quips such as this one making it incredibly difficult not to fall in love with Mma Ramotswe and her life's stories.

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