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    Review of THE FULL CUPBOARD OF LIFE by Alexander McCall Smith


    Pantheon Books, April 2004 (U.S.)

    Mma. Precious Ramotswe gets a new case for the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency--a woman made wealthy by her hair braiding salons has decided to take a husband and has four suitors. Mma. Ramotswe is hired to determine which is most suitable and which might only be after her money.

    Author Alexander McCall Smith (see more reviews of novels by McCall Smith) uses this boyfriend investigation as a jumping off point to consider relationships between men and women. As always, the focus is on Botswanna (a country in southern Africa) with a rich interplay between the traditional culture of this nation and changing society. Intriguing characters, especially Mma. Ramotswe and her secretary/assistant detective, Mma. Makutsi add depth to the story. The lessons aren't especially surprising--men need women to tell them what to do and can't really be trusted to know their own minds--but are told in such a charming way that they seem filled with wisdom.

    Africa has become the forgotten continent. It seems that we hear about it only in the context of the terrible AIDS epidemic (which is not ignored but ony briefly touched on in this story) or genocide and civil war. McCall Smith takes a different and refreshing tack. Without excessively idealizing the continent, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series suggests that Africa is filled with people much like ourselves--but different enough that we can learn about them, and about ourselves, by watching and listening as they go about their daily lives.

    McCall Smith uses a simple writing style, almost as if creating a fairy tale, that simultaneously highlights the differences between his Botswanna and U.S./U.K. society and also reminds us our shared humanity.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 5/04/04

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