Tea Time for the Traditionally Built
Walking along the streets of Hanoi one pleasant Saturday morning, Grumpy and I came across an English bookstore and immediately rushed in to scour books on the shelves. The search rendered an immediate reward; an undiscovered gem by my favourite author, Alexander McCall Smith.
He has several series, and this was part of a great one, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, so with joy in my heart, I went to the cash register and hugged my book till I reached home and Grumpy embedded himself with the Economist. I could hardly wait to get a chance to get at an author who struggles to make ethics a part of life with the most engaging of characters.
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built is beautifully designed and the cover is lovable. If you had been reading books on your iPad or Kindle, you sometimes miss the feel of a real book and its beautifully designed cover. Real books will always be different in smell, in feel and in the response of my generation at least.
Why is our traditionally built lady detective busy drinking tea in unfamiliar kitchens?
This book, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, opens with Mma Ramotse and her ever assertive assistant , serious secretarial college graduate, Grace Makutsi, reflecting in a glorious conversation on how lazy people have become supported by the simple example that no one in the capital city really walks anymore.
Mma Ramotse reflects that cars really have changed life in Botswana and perhaps not always for the better. If you remember, she is of a traditional African build, so that evening she made a resolve to walk a bit more. It wasn't, of course, what her assistant said nor the fact that she is of traditional build, that led to this resolve.
Mma Ramotse and her White Van
Her tiny white van which had been a trademark of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency right from day one, had been making louder and stranger noises and it made her think this old friend may be eyeing up retirement. Mma Ramotse was not yet ready to let go of her old friend which had ridden her into so many scrapes, but safely lifted her out again. So she dreams of a scheme to keep her tiny white van up and running and as close as a pet dog.
As in life, McCall Smith always introduces in his novels several simple plots that he weaves together into a charming whole. Always, at the core of his plots is how good people leaven their daily lives with standards of human decency. Yes,that is McCall Smith's central idÃ©e: what is human decency and why is it slipping from us? So, just as Mma Ramotse and her assistant finish their morning tea after the long tiny van free walk to the office, Mr. Molofololo's car, a big Mercedes Benz arrived. Mr. Molofololo is not only a rich man but a very popular man in Botswana. He is often referred to as Mr. Football of Botswana as he owns the Kalahari Swoopers.
I can relate to Mma Ramotse's lack of understanding of this game as I don't' know much about it myself. But Mr. Molofololo came to seek her advice, not on the game, but on his team. They had been doing very well and in the last few weeks, the house of cards began to collapse. Mr. Molofololo, had worked very hard to finally own a team. It was more than a dream, it was his life. He was distraught. His life was in tatters. This problem, he went on, "hurts me here. Right here-in my heart." Russian zillionaire oligarchs come to mind with their big England teams! Get the book. Delve into the source and cause of the agonies. Find out how Mma Ramotse with her unconsciously ethical approach to thinking through life problems helped him.
As Mma Ramotse ruminates over her tiny white van and Mr. Molofololo's problem, she can hardly get her assistant to help her as our Mma Makutsi (number 1 graduate from the Botswana Secretarial College) is seething with anger at her former schoolmate, Violet Sephotho, who is scheming to ensnare Mma Makutsi's fiancee, Mr. Phuti Radiphuti, the owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop. Violet has secured a job in Phuti's shop selling beds and is doing quite well and piece by piece earning Phuti's admiration.
Where will this end? Will Violet succeed in her dastardly scheme? Can Phuti be relied on? These thoughts are crippling Mma Makutsi so much that she has become less of a help to her boss. So Mma Ramotse had her sight on Charlie, one of the apprentices in the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, her husband's shop, to help her out in some of her planned attempts at solving these concerns. You will surely enjoy what Charlie did. But Mma Ramotse has still Mr. Molofololo problem to resolve. Was someone in his team really selling the team out? Will several cups of tea in some unfamiliar kitchens help this traditionally built lady detective find out?
Once again, the tiny little concerns of simple people trying to behave as decent humans should, in an apparent backwater like Botswana, has warmed so many hearts and made so many "sophisticated people" dig a little more deeply into the concept of decency and their own lives. If you still have not read this book, I promise you, it will warm your heart this summer and have you chuckling more than the time you read "Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town”.
About Alexander McCall Smith: A Prolific Writer
That this author was born in Bulawayo where the Canadian College I worked in a past life had a project, aroused my interest. McCaul Smith was born in 1948 when Bulawayo was still part of what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Born to a public prosecutor in the then British Colony, he was educated by the Christian Brothers and later went to Scotland where he received a degree in Law from the University of Edinburgh.
He taught in Queen's College, Belfast where he had his first foray into the Literary World with two novels input in a competition, one of which won the children's category. That was all he needed and he became a reliable author of elegantly crafted books that has built an audience of hundreds of thousands.
Alexander McCall Smith: The Author
Africa was lodged in McCall Smith's spirit to the degree that in 1981, he went back to co-found the University of Botswana. He wrote the only book on the country's legal system, "The Criminal Law of Botswana". And after a 3-year stint in Botswana, back to Edinburgh to become a Professor at his alma mater, The University of Edinburgh. He became a respected expert in medical law and bioethics, sitting in British and international commissions. He stayed on as a professor until 2005.
In 2006, he was named Alumnus of the Year by the University of Edinburgh and in 2007, he was given by the university the honorary degree, Doctor of Laws. That year, he was also inducted into the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire(CBE).
He also received several awards foremost of which is the 1998 Booker Prize for Fiction Judges' Special Recommendations and The Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millenium for the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Another book, The Full Cupboard of Life also won the 2003 Saga Wit Award. He was also named Author of the Year by both the Booksellers Association and British Book Awards.
So far, he has written over 60 books translated into 45 languages. He is warm-chuckle funny. He sneaks in ideas under a warm smile. His humour is totally engaging. His plea for human decency is clocked in novels that will draw you into characters you never imagined would be magnets for you. In a world of smash and grab authors, please read McCall Smith just to feel a warm glow about being a human.
A beautifully written, deceptively simple novel. Goodness abides in the 'idyllic' world of Botswana and we all would 'like a piece' of it. A wonderful read to take on holiday - correction, to read any time!
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