It's easy to say why I like the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books so much. I've come to know and love the characters, especially Precious Ramotswe, the number one lady detective. She is smart, wise, kind, and loving, but feisty when she needs to be. Her assistant, Grace Makutsi, is also smart, though prickly, and very fond of shoes.
Beyond the characters, I love the setting. Smith makes us feel the heat of a Botswana summer, the relief at the first bank of rain clouds. He shows us the beautiful cattle that make up much of the country's traditional wealth. We also come to know the Kalahari desert which covers much of Botswana. Of more interest to me are the cultural observations. Botswana makes me think of what the early U.S. must have been like as it began to get firmly established and comfortable: a combination of tradition and change. The old values that built a nation still exist, but many people prefer the comforts and conveniences of modern technology, money, casual sex. The ravages of AIDS, a disease often mentioned, but never by name, weave their way through the novels.
But mostly I like the way the novels have a solid moral center while they avoid being preachy. And they are so gentle. The stories can be intense. Not all is sweetness and light -- did I mention AIDS? There's also witchcraft, murder, adultery, theft, and other evils. The books are always interesting, often funny with a subtle humor. But the tone is gentle, civilized, as if to say, "Yes, these regretable evils exist and must be dealt with. But they need not diminish our humanity. They need not corrupt our souls."
Every novel ends the same way, with a single word repeated nine times in a diamond formation:
africa africa africa
A litany of joy and love, a song of praise to the beauty of a continent, a nation, a people.
Photos from http://africanphotos.gm/.