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What is the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a book written by Alexander McCall Smith, published in 1998. The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency is owned by the traditionally built, in other words, plus size, character Precious Ramotswe, who lives in Botswana. Her popularity as a character has led to five sequels to the first charming book, and Smith is contracted to write two more.

McCall Smith, who has spent much time in Botswana, initially conceived the beloved character of Mma Ramotswe, for a short story. He states he was inspired to create Precious while watching a woman vigorously chase a chicken around a yard in Botswana. The short story quickly developed into a longer treatment and soon the character of Mma Ramotswe formed the basis for The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

The fictional agency takes on small matters such as suspected indiscretions of wives or husbands. Though the books are mildly mysterious, the real interest for most readers is the continuing development of Mma Ramotswe’s story, and those other characters of which many readers have become quite fond.

In The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, the reader is quickly introduced to J.L.B Maketoni, a garage mechanic of excellent principles who fixes the tiny white van Mma Ramotswe drives about on her quest to solve small mysteries. Additionally, the character of Mma Makutsi, the secretary for the agency is also significantly developed .

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Through the eyes of Mma Ramotswe, serious topics are confronted, such as the presence of AIDS in Africa, poverty, the occasional cruelty of husbands to wives, major depression, and the topic of the modern government of Botswana. What readers often find intriguing is the way in which characters interact with each other, which differs greatly from western world interactions. Inherent in Ramotswe’s philosophy is a feeling of responsibility toward all who live in her country. There is a shared sense of taking care of her people and observing high moral standards. Many of Botswana’s problems are linked to the departure from traditional Botswanan ideology.

Throughout The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency and the follow-up novels, Mma Ramotswe has what many westerners would consider an eastern philosophy about the way of life. Precious changes what she can, but recognizes that some things, like AIDS are beyond her control. Her focus is on the mysteries and intricacies of everyday life, rather than on large issues, which although sad, are uncontrollable.

Precious changes what she can, and sighs over the things she cannot change, yet not for long. Overall, she is happy and grateful to inhabit her country. Her attitude toward life is one of gratitude, although her tragic back story has detailed the loss of a child and a wicked first husband,. Her detective agency is a small way to help her world become better.

On a lighter note, Ramotswe deplores the trend of women to want to be so thin. Readers may delight in her satisfaction at finding a rack of size 22 dresses on sale. Instead of bemoaning her figure, Ramotswe is, in fact, quite proud of her traditional build.

The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency is interesting in voice. Certain words like “traditionally built,” “tiny white van,” and “bush tea,” are frequently repeated evoking an oral tradition rather than a written one. Some readers enjoy the repetitions, but others feel the novel and its sequels lack the qualities characteristic of good works of literature. Despite critics, the six books published thus far have been well received, and have created an interest in Smith’s other novels, as well as an interest in learning more about the Botswanan way of life.

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