Thursday, January 13, 2005

Backlog: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I'm toying with the idea of using this space to keep track of my reading list. you will soon understand what a pretentious (or is it portentious? Probably both) statement that is when you find how meager that reading list is. I go through phases and it's my blog, I can do with it what I want. Deal with it.

The first book I read this year was The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. And since I have no other way to discuss things, I'll pretend I'm writing a scientific paper. This could be fun.

Based on my short experience in Africa and the lack of Oprah!adjectives on the back cover, I expected to find The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency a light read, perfect for vacation. Indeed, though it fulfills its promise of entertainment, the complete story arch produces enough characterization to create a relationship between the protagonist and the reader.

A few years ago I traveled to Tanzania to visit a friend in the peace corps. I experienced two Africas there: on safari, we stayed in hotels with pools and luxurious showers and ate four course meals, but at my friend's house we used a choo and learned some kiswahili. Though the safari was unbelievable, I am most fortunate to have the unique opportunity to travel in Africa with someone who lived there. In that time, I got a taste of the culture, and how people think.

As a result of my experience with Oprahs' book club, I try to avoid any book on that list, and furthermore refuse to read any book whose description includes the words or phrases: harrowing, heartbreaking, emotional strength, disastrous event, shattered, tormented, descends even further into darknes, vivid human drama, guilt and betrayal, or especially, life-affirming. In contrast, the back of Smith's novel uses words such as cunning, engagin, smart, sassy, amuse, entrancing, and nuance. My one worry was the trace of life-affirming on the cover.

In this novel I anticipated a light-hearted mystery within the context of an African community and the quirky culture I experienced.

Materials and Methods
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith, was purchased from Books & Company of Hamden, CT. read during my winter vacation in Los Angeles, the plane ride back to New Haven, between dances at Danvers New Year's, and completed in the comfort of my home. It was strictly for pleasure, because I should have been reading about the Ro and La autoantigens instead.

This novel relates the experiences of Mme Ramostwe, the first and only lady detective in Botswana. After a short introduction of how she became a detective, the majority of the novel consists of the cases she solves.

Two types of chapters comprise this novel. The first type of chapter is able to stand alone, and relates a single case, from beginning to end. These are complex enough to keep the reader interested and wondering how Mme Ramotswe will solve the case. In each, she manages to satisfy her client.

The second type of chapter focuses on the life of Mme Ramotswe and/or the case of the missing boy. This case becomes central to the novel because she takes it on not for compensation but because she becomes emotionally involved. It is through these chapters that we come to understand Mme Ramotswe, her motivations, and her experiences.

Individually, the stand-alone chapters would be entertaining enough to be worth reading as short stories. However, it is the character-defining chapters that pull the novel together and create a connection between the reader and the protagonist.

The attitude and methods used to solve each crime are peculiar to the culture, and agree with my experience in Africa. The language used in the novel, as well as Mme Ramotswe's pattern of thinking, are very logical, practical, and straightforward, and create a fresh perspective when compared to the fanciful rings that revolve around many American novels.

It is likely that with proper funding, I will undertake further explorations into this series in the future.

Wow, that was exhausting. And I didn't even come up with anything too interesting. Don't expect much more of THAT.

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