There are so many books that portray Africa in a negative light that it is wonderful to come across a story which defies the 'everything falls apart in Africa' theme. The book in question is of course the famous The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. It is a heart-warming novel that follows the fictional tale of a detective agency run by a woman in Botswana. Actually, I should add that, in addition to avoiding the Dark Africa mentality, this author also covered a number of other topics rather well: gender norms in Africa and cultural adaptations to a new era are just some of these said topics. All of which certainly added to the appeal of this book.
As I mentioned earlier, the main plot is about the first female-run detective agency in Botswana. There is no one great mystery as such. Rather, the reader follows the footsteps of the enterprising lady as she solves the various mysteries brought to her agency by different folk. The cases themselves are unusual: a missing husband case, the fake father who is a mooch case as well as a missing child case. These cases are meant to reveal more about the main protagonist as well as tell the reader a little bit more about the story's unique backdrop.
It is in fact the strong African flavor present in the novel which makes the story stand out. The different cases, while weird by modern Western standards, tell us a little bit more about an African society. And for those of us who have lived in Africa for a while, these stories will make us just a bit nostalgic as you are once again reminded of some of the diverse cultural norms that are present in most African societies. I must admit, the muti story was especially frightening as it still happens in a lot of countries and is not just a fictional concept conjured up for the sake of the story.
Another aspect that I loved was the various characters' passion for getting things done. It is quite touching to see Mma Ramotswe go out there, against adversity and succeed in her field. In this way, the portrayal of women is quite fascinating. On the one hand, women like Mma Ramotswe are seen to take charge of their own lives, of their own destinies. This much can also be seen from the client who had a mooch for a father. Considering that the gender norms in countries like Botswana still dictate that women are more suited for certain jobs as opposed to others, it was fantastic to find an assertive, confident character like Mma Ramotswe. However, I also found it interesting that Mma Ramotswe doesn't go all out to challenge all gender norms. In fact, there is the idea of African women are motherly beings concept whereby the main protagonist dreams of providing a nurturing environment for her family. I suppose that is the author's view coming through: he seems in favor of changing some aspects of Africa but there is much that he would cherish and hold onto.