Friday, July 17, 2009

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith

34. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built - tenth in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2009
hardcover, 210 pages
library book
finished, 7/16/09

You will either think I am nuts, or you will nod your head in understanding: I feel as if Mma Ramotswe and the others in Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books are real people. Or at least, I want them to be real. Or, at the very least, there is this wonderful author in the world who makes me believe in these characters. The ten books in the series are like chapters in their lives. Often a book will feature one of the cast of characters more prominently, giving us a glimpse into each one.

In case you haven't read any of the books, the premise is that Mma Precious Ramotswe started a detective agency. The books feature a case, or cases, but they are not really mysteries. They are full of thought and feeling. They are not action-packed, but slow and quiet observances of life in Botswana. The fact of AIDS is touched upon, but not focused on. I read the following online:

The Republic of Botswana is in southern Africa, north of South Africa and to the west of Zimbabwe, with Namibia on its eastern border. Since independence in 1966 there have been many impressive social and economic improvements. Ninety-seven per cent of the 1.5 million population have access to safe water, and with free primary education access to learning is high with over 84 per cent of children enrolled. However, the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world is creating enormous problems. Close to 22 per cent of the population is HIV positive and life expectancy has dropped from 65 to 38 years. The number of orphans under the age of 15, because of AIDS, is estimated to be nearly 80,000.

These statistics are shocking and unimaginable. This is the reality of Botswana, yet Alexander McCall Smith focuses on the human stories. I don't believe there have been characters with the disease, but mention is made about the changes in the country, and the orphan population.

Mma Ramotswe liked people to know one another, and if the bond between them went back over more than one generation, then all the better. That was how it had always been in Botswana, where the links between people, those profound connections of blood and lineage, spread criss-cross over the human landscape, binding one to another in reliance, trust, and sheer familiarity. At one time there had been no strangers in Botswana; everybody fitted in somehow, even if tenuously and on the margins. Now there were strangers, and the bonds had been weakened by drift to the towns and by other things too: by the conduct that had sired the wave of children who had no idea who their father, or their father's people might be; by the cruel ravages of the disease that made orphans in a country where the very concept of an orphan had been barely known, as there had always been aunts and grandmothers aplenty to fill the breach. Yes, all this had changed, but in spite of it, the old bonds survived.

I can't praise these books enough, and will do as I did with Jane's Parlour, and share quotes to give you a sense of the warmth, humanity, and gentle humor of the book.

She looked at the woman, who smiled back at her; there was much that could be said without speaking, especially amongst women. A glance, a movement of the head, a slight shift in pose - all of these could convey a message as eloquently, as volubly, as words might do.

Until you hear the whole story, until you dig deeper, and listen, she thought, you know only a tiny part of the goodness of the human heart.

She would buy a doughnut for herself - a rich, greasy, sugar-dusted doughnut - and one for Mma Ramotswe too. They would eat them together over their morning tea, in companionable enjoyment - two ladies sharing a common office, but two friends as well, united as friends so often are, in the love of the things they loved.

The hot months were not easy - they drained the country of its energy, its vitality, crushing animals, people, plants under a sky that at times seemed like one great oven. And then, as the whole land became drier and drier and, in bad years, the cattle began to die, nature would relent, would remember that it was the time for rain. Great rain clouds, purple bank stacked upon purple bank, would appear above the horizon and then sweep in over the land with their longed-for gift of water. The temperatures would drop as the land breathed again; brown would become green; and the hearts of everything living would be filled with relief and gratitude.

"I'll try to be back in time for my dinner," said Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "But you know how it is."
Mma Ramotswe did know. He would not be back until ten that night, perhaps even later, and she would worry about him until she saw the lights of his truck at the front gate. That journey could be perilous at night, what with bad drivers and with animals straying onto the road. She knew of so many people who had collided with cattle at night; one moment the road was clear and then, with very little or no warning at all, a cow or a donkey would nonchalantly wander out in front of the car. But you could worry too much about these things, thought Mma Ramotswe, and she knew that worrying about things was no help at all. Of course you were concerned for those you loved; it would be impossible not to be so.


  1. I have had the pleasure of seeing the author twice at readings he gave. He is SO AMAZING! You know that rhetorical question; who would you invite to a dinner should be Alexendar McCall Smith!!! He is the best!

    Also, Nan, your banner pictures are just gorgeous~

  2. Lucky, lucky. I would love to hear him speak. He is amazing to me -all he does, all he writes, and still seems so cheerful, so very decent a person. And thank you very much about the pictures, Laura.

  3. Nodding head here! I'm a big fan of this series, and have "Tea Time" on my bedside stand ready to read soon. My sisterinlaw taped the 6 HBO episodes that aired last year based on the books. I was hesitant to have my own imagination supplanted, and to my surprise, I was delighted that the television program captures almost every detail of personality and setting I had imagined. I guess that is a tribute to MacCall Smith for setting up such rich characters in our minds. I recommend that show if you can get it. It is completely entertaining. I can't wait to read #10.

  4. I love this series and the Edinburgh ones too! Do agree with you about how wonderful they are!

  5. I agree with all of this. As far as I'm concerned, AMS could just go on producing a book a year about the characters' lives and I would buy the lot. He really is one of the great discoveries of the age.
    'I don't believe there have been characters with the disease'
    Mma Makutsi's brother has it.

    Be warned, folks, the TV series is disliked by everyone who loves the books.

  6. I agree these books are delightful! After reading the first one, I switched to audiobooks for the next few. The reader was wonderful and added yet another dimension to the story. It's good to see you reviewing a library book again ;-)

    The header photo is gorgeous!

  7. I haven't read this one yet but I have loved the others. I know what you mean about the characters felling real to you. They are like old friends that come to visit every now and then.
    HBO has made the books into a TV show. I hope they don't ruin them. We don't get HBO, so I'll never know. lol

  8. Thank you all for writing. I loved reading your comments.

    I wonder if I'll watch the televised version when it comes to dvd/Netflix. I believe it was you, Call Me Madam who wrote of something Mma R. said which was so out of character. And I think they may have added a character I don't recognize from the books. But then again, I would love to see Botswana; and the author seems to approve.

    There's a website here with video clips of both the show, and Alexander McCall Smith.

    The actors pictured seem perfect to me. The involvement of such greats as the late Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, and Richard Curtis certainly recommend it. There is so much to recommend watching that I probably will.

    There are lots of reviews by people at the Netflix site if you are interested:

    I had forgotten about Mma Makutsi's brother.

  9. I have loved all of the books (I haven't read #10 yet), I loved the film and I have really enjoyed the television adaptation. My husband grew up across the border from Botswana and he tells me the way of life, the characters and the countryside that are depicted are really accurate. He wouldn't miss an episode either.

  10. Maureen, thanks so much for your input on the televised version. Has your husband read the books? I'd sure love to hear more about his childhood.

  11. Nan, this link should take you to a picture of my husband and his family. He is the one with the white mice, shirt tail hanging out the back of his trousers and socks round his ankles - he hasn't changed much! There are a number of posts about the sorry state of that country, filed under Zimbabwe on my sidebar. I will ask my husband to write something about his very happy childhood when the country was so very different.

  12. A great book and for the first time ever I read it before you! (Probably because it was published here first?) Otherwise I'm always chasing round to get copies of some of the books you read and recommend! Of all the bloggers I follow our tastes seem to be the closest to mine.

  13. Oh, Maureen thank you! I'll also spend time reading about Zimbabwe from your sidebar. Thanks so much for drawing my attention to it.

    Ah, Scriptor Senex, I agree! By the way, have you ever gone to the Classic Mysteries blog? You may get the entries as a podcast too.

  14. My husband and I have read all of the Mma Ramotswe books published to date and they are treasures. No, you are not nuts, I too think she deserves to be a real person.
    Africa and her beloved Botswana are also real characters and the author writes so you can almost feel the African breeze on your cheek, no matter where you live.

  15. I just adore that title. I want to find a store called "Clothing for the Traditionally Built" now. Too terrific! I read the first book and liked it...I should dip back into the series.

  16. Terra, thanks for coming by. Lovely to hear you feel the same way. Do you read any other AMS series? I love most of them.

    Susan, you may have your million dollar business here! What a fantastic idea! I'll bet AMS would front you some $$ for the publicity. :<) I remember reading years ago that Julia Child's clothes were from a company called The Forgotten Woman, also a great name.

    I read about it closing (in 1999) here:

    and then re-opening again here:

    But your name is even better! Please remember me when the money starts streaming in. :<)

    And I think the books get better and better with each glimpse.

  17. I haven't read any of these but I did watch the HBO show based on the books. In the show, the humor and personability of the characters really came through, and I enjoyed it.

  18. Thanks, Heather for the recommendation. I have it in my Netflix queue whenever it becomes available on dvd.


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.