49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2003
Western writers usually enter Africa by way of a protagonist who belongs to their own culture (missionary, functionary, explorer, soldier, mail-order bride) and is venturing into unknown territory. So it is one of the mysteries --- and miracles --- of recent fiction that a Scotsman named Alexander McCall Smith should have created a character like Precious Ramotswe, the full-bodied, clear-headed, absolutely captivating investigator who inhabits all four of his Botswana novels: THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY, TEARS OF THE GIRAFFE, MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, and now, THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN.
Mma Ramotswe (in traditional Botswana culture, honorifics are always used; it seems rude not to do so in the review as well) has had a tough life: married to an abusive jazz musician, she loses her baby and then her beloved father. But she finds her vocation: she sets up the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and is soon attracting clients. She also acquires a fiancé, garage owner Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, two orphans, and a sidekick, Mma Makutsi, who received a grade of 97 percent on her exams at the Botswana Secretarial College. You don't have to be familiar with the first three books to follow the action in KALAHARI --- McCall Smith is careful to supply context for the first-time reader --- but I think it's better to discover them in order. Not only do you gradually develop a sense of Mma Ramotswe and her life on Zebra Drive (yep, that's the name of her street), but you also become deeply fond of Botswana (this is important since, to the average Westerner, Africa is still a "dark" --- that is, unknown --- continent). These wise, charming books leave you feeling washed clean and peaceful, with an expanded sense of humanity.
Although KALAHARI and the other books are technically mysteries, plot is not the main thing here. There are interlocking events --- a man across town opens a new detective agency; Mma Makutsi starts a typing school for men; Mma Ramotswe solves a case or two --- but there is little real tension or suspense. What keeps you reading is the wonderful writing: pure, economical, funny, utterly lacking in condescension. The evocation of Botswana is often lyrical (its quiet roads, its ubiquitous cattle). Sometimes the stories seem fable-like, as if McCall Smith is telling them around a campfire in the deep African night. This impression is reinforced by the repetition of certain phrases. Mma Ramotswe has a "tiny white van" and is "traditionally built." She believes in "the old Botswana morality" --- a phrase that covers everything from knocking and calling out "Ko Ko" before you enter someone's house to the deeper sense of courtesy and integrity that is being overwhelmed by modern life.
It is one of the many ironies of this wonderful book that Mma Ramotswe and her cohorts, despite their professed yearning for traditional values, are actually the smartest, most progressive people around. Because they are authentic and honest and guided by common sense rather than greed or pride, they make phony modernists like the proprietor of the rival Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency look like idiots (the scene in which Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi pay him a visit is priceless). Indeed, THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN, more than the others in the series, is very much occupied with gender; it has a feminist streak a mile wide.
Consider the characters McCall Smith gives us: the entrepreneurial Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi; the imposing head of the orphan farm, Mma Potokwani, who wangles free products and services from everyone ("It would take a degree of courage that few possessed to turn [her] down"); Mma Tsolamosese, whose daughter has died of AIDS and who is caring for her doomed grandchild with dignity and compassion; and Mma Boko, who is head of a local branch of the Botswana Rural Women's Association but refuses to run for office because "all [men] do is talk about money and roads and things like that. ... We women have more important things to talk about."
With sly humor and wry tolerance, the novel captures that conspiratorial sense among women --- in any culture --- that men are not quite up to their standards (Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni being the exception, of course): "The trouble with men," muses Mma Ramotswe, "was that they went about with their eyes half closed for much of the time. ... That was why women were so good at tasks which required attention to the way people felt. Being a private detective, for example. ..." Or Mma Makutsi, commenting on the essays written by her typing-school students: "All of life seemed to be laid out before her: mothers, wives, football teams, ambitions at work, cherished motor cars; everything that men liked." And when Mma Ramotswe says her foster son is going through "a difficult patch," a friend replies dryly: "Boys do go through times like that. It can last for fifty years."
McCall Smith, it turns out, was born in what is now Zimbabwe (then called Southern Rhodesia) and taught law at the University of Botswana, but those facts alone hardly explain his astounding ability to enter the soul of a woman as well as the soul of Africa. He, like Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, must be one of the exceptions, a good man. He is certainly an imaginative and observant one. Somehow he manages to communicate the specific feel and spirit of Botswana while also creating characters that transcend the barriers of geography, culture, and gender.
McCall Smith is writing a fifth Precious Ramotswe book, according to his publisher, and has started a new series featuring another lady detective, Isabel Dalhousie (Scottish father, American mother). I can't wait.
--- Reviewed by Kathy Weissman
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2004
"The Kalahari Typing School for Men" continues the story of "lady detective" Precious Ramotswe, her fiance, Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni, and the assistant detective/secretary, Mma Makutsi.
McCall Smith is an outstanding writer, not bound by genre. His descriptions of the Botswana countryside are as evocative as any "nature" writer's, and his ability to create interesting, entertaining, and complex characters is unparalleled. Precious, Mr. Maketoni, and Mma Makutsi are so clearly drawn that you would know them instantly if you met them on the street. In "Kalahari," we particularly get to know the plain, bespectacled, but utterly self-reliant Mma Makutsi better, when she starts her own typing school.
My one caveat for series neophytes is that there is very little detecting going on in these books; in fact, McCall Smith appears to have given up clues, discovery, and the like entirely in favor of more character development.
But he's so very very good at it, you mustn't miss it!
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2003
Alexander McCall Smith has written over 50 books from specialized works as The Criminal Law of Botswana, Forensic
Aspects of Sleep to Children's books. He currently is a Professor of Medical Law at Edinburgh University
The Kalahari Typing School For Men
Now that The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (UNTIL NOW, the only detective agency for ladies and others in Botswana) is established, its founder, Precious Ramotswe, can look upon her life with pride: she's reached her late thirties ("the finest age to be"), has a house, two children, a good fiancé -- Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni -- and many satisfied customers. But life is never without its problems. It turns out that her adopted son is responsible for the dead hoopoe bird in the garden; her assistant, Mma Makutsi, wants a husband and needs help with her idea to open the Kalahari Typing School for Men; yet Mma Ramotswe's sexist rival has no trouble opening his Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency across town. Will Precious Ramotswe's delightfully cunning and profoundly moral methods save the day? Follow the continuing story of Botswana's first lady detective in the irresistible "Kalahari Typing School for Men".
Readers who haven't yet discovered Mma Ramotswe will enjoy discovering how her quiet humor, understated observations on life, and resolutely intuitive approach to detection promise to put Botswana on the sleuthing map for good.
IF there is a downside to this excellent series of enchanting mysteries, it is that it takes several years after a books initial release overseas to appear in US publication. Readers who are hooked on the lovable characters, beautiful setting and imaginative plots will be glad to know that The Full Cupboard of Life (the 5th in the series, is to be published by Polygon UK May 2003). And in a recent interview Alexander McCall Smith forsees even more books in the series! When will Mma Ramotswe and Mr J.L.B. Metekoni tie the knot (is that the correct phrase for getting married in Botswana?). What further adventures and Life's lessons will the group encounter and share with their readers? I for one CAN'T WAIT!!!
The Full Cupboard of Life (the 5th in the series, is to be published by Polygon UK May 2003)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for it's unique and likable characters and exotic setting. The uniqueness of the mysteries
reflect a simpler lifestyle than many of us live and especially expect in a "mystery". TOTAL ENJOYMENT!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2003
"I must remember, thought Mma. Ramotswe, how fortunate I am in this life; at every moment, but especially now, sitting on the verandah of my house in Zebra Drive, and looking up at the high sky of Botswana, so empty that the blue is almost white. Here she was then, Precious Ramotswe, owner of Botswana's only detective agency, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency-an agency which by and large had lived up to its initial promise to provide satisfaction for its clients, although some of them, it must be said, could never be satisfied. And here she was too, somewhere in her late thirties, which as far as she was concerned was the very finest age to be; here she was with the house in Zebra Drive and two orphan children, a boy and a girl, bringing life and chatter into the home. These were blessings with which anybody should be content. With these things in one's life, one might well say that nothing more was needed." (Page 1)
So begins Alexander McCall Smith's latest book, THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN. He has a wonderful African storytelling voice. Parts of the book are funny, sad, educational, and touching.
Mma. Ramotswe deals with real and moral problems. Although the troubles take place in Africa, they are universal and range from searching for people from the past, cheating spouses, looking for love, raising children, trying to improve one's financial status, trying to right a wrong, to dealing with competition, and more.
I enjoy the way Mma. Ramotswe solves her clients' problems as well as her own. There are no guns or high-speed chases. There is no fighting, cursing, or the likes. An element of danger and adventure exists in Mma. Ramotswe's work but the detective uses her wits and manners when dealing with others. The plot is always refreshing.
I love the way THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN transports me to Mma. Ramotswe's world. I feel like I'm a part of the detective agency. I feel like I'm riding with Mma. Ramotswe in her little white van along the Botswana plains. I feel like I'm sharing a cup of red bush tea with her and Mma. Makutsi. I feel like I've tasted a slice of the cake that Mma. Potokwani always serves Mma. Ramotswe at the orphanage. I feel like I know the kind and gentle Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. I feel like I'm in the same room with his funny mechanic apprentices.
Another good read.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2003
Mma Ramotswe is back in form in the fourth book in the series about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective agency. Her detective agency is on solid footing although she's barely breaking even financially; she's become in institution in the community, her faithful fiance Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is still faithful (are these two ever going to set the date??) and overall, life is good. But there's a small cloud on the horizon; a pushy male detective who claims to be from the Big Apple sets up shop in town, loudly proclaiming that sleuthing is a man's business after all, and threatens to give Mma Ramotswe some serious competition. But Mma. Makutsi, her trusty assistant, saves the day by scavenging some old typewriters and opening an adjunct business in their office, a typing school for men (what's the difference between a clerk and a secretary, except that men are called clerks and women are called secretaries, Mma. Makutsi reasons; after all, they both need to know how to type). And next thing you know, business is booming, and one of Mma. Makutsi's students is making some serious moves on her. Is love in the air? Or is this guy maybe too good to be true? It's up to Mma Ramotswe to find out, when she has time off from her search for two missing persons, and dealing with that pesky competition on the side.
Alexander McCall Smith brings Mma Ramotswe back onstage with all her formidable qualities very much in effect; her shrewd mother-wit, her common sense, and her uncanny intuition. Like the first three book, "The Kalahari Typing School for Men" is an enchanting love poem to the people and the continent that so intrigues and fascinates Smith, and which he makes so fascinating for the rest of us. It's all summed up in his coda on the final page:
africa africa africa
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2003
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As Westerners know, the confrontations between men and women are often acrimonious. Many books, with positions ranging from the militant to the yielding, have been written on the subject. But this small novel, "The Kalahari Typing School for Men", gently and quietly explores the relationships between men and women, and wisely and quietly illustrates the virtues of respect and patience as people learn to live together.
Yes, this is a 'detective' novel, and it's also a folk tale, an allegory, and a spiritual journey for all of the characters--and the reader. The heroine, Precious Ramotswe, returns in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series to confront a number of problems: a client who needs to make amends to important women in his life, an adopted son who is reaching puberty, a fiance who is fragile but growing stronger, an assistant who wants a man and finds one, and competition for her business with an obnoixious male detective.
But Precious is a well-rounded lady in her late thirties who possesses wisdom, maturity, and directness and sensibility. In less than 200 pages of this deceptively simple and exquisitely crafted novel, the problems are solved and--yes--the men learn to type.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series is a wonderful one. It is set in Botswana, where people mend tea cups rather than throw them away, the simplicity and dignity of the lifestyle is in itself a lesson.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio Cassette
Narrator Lisette Lecat, a native of South Africa, is a polished voice performer doubly blessed by a winning way with accents. She gives vibrant voice to the unconquerable Precious Ramotswe, proprietress of Botswana's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.
Possessed with intelligence and human intuition in an abundance that matched her girth Mma Ramotswe has familiarized herself with an instruction manual, "The Principles of Private Detection." Then, equipped with a "tiny white van,"minimal office equipment, an assistant, Mma Makutsi, and three mugs in which to brew redbush tea she opened for business.
She loves Botswana, and feels she knows "how to love the people who live in this place." It is her duty, she believes. "to help them solve the mysteries in their lives."
Much has happened since Mma Ramotswe first entertained these revelatory thoughts. Her business has flourished to the extent that she has been able to buy a home on Zebra Drive and, on the far side of her thirties, which she considers the "finest age to be" she has become engaged to Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, the proud and proper owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.
Now, with the fourth in Alexander Smith's engaging series, "The Kalahari Typing School for Men," she has two adopted children in her care, and is confronted by a rival business run by a macho retired policeman who trumpets that only a man can be a proper detective.
Mma Makutsi also faces challenges. Her bank balance is anemic, and her life lacks romance. Then, quite suddenly, "a strikingly good idea" occurs to her: she would open a typing school for men. She realizes that men have to type in order to use computers, but did not learn to type correctly because "they are ashamed to say that they cannot type and they do not want to go and have to learn with a class full of girls."
An evening class held in a church hall so that others would think the men were going to a church meeting was the solution. Not only is the school an unqualified success, but there is extra-circular activity when a student becomes enamored with Mma Makutsi. Regrettably, there are complications in this pairing - complications that trouble Mma Ramotswe.
Equally distressing is Mma Ramotswe's latest client, Mr. Molefelo. Now, a well-to-do engineer Mr. Molefelo once committed what he considers to be egregious sins. He wants to make amends for past wrongs. Thus, it falls to Mma Ramotswe to find those he has misused.
These tasks aren't difficult for Botswana's No. 1 lady detective who, possessed with Solomon-like wisdom, also suggests precisely what Mr. Molefelo might do to achieve proper atonement.
Spare and neatly crafted, "The Kalahari Typing School For Men" sparkles with African sunshine and Mma Ramotswe's wit. It is refreshing and irresistible, leaving listeners eager for more.
- Gail Cooke
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2003
In the latest book in THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY series, Precious Ramotswe, the first female private detective in Botswana, has issues: (1) a strutting, cocky new detective has opened shop in Gaborone and is threatening her business; (2) one of the children in her care has taken up a bad habit; (3) her secretary/assistant, Mma Makutsi is involved with a suspicious man; (4) Mma Makutsi has opened a sideline business, teaching men to type and (5) a client has given her an urgent, delicate assignment.
Like Jan Karon's gentle fiction, I never tire of stories about Precious, her finance, her employee, and their lives in Africa. True, there is no thrilling action (unless you count the miracle in the garage....or the death of a water pump), but there is plenty of heart and some wonderful soul in Alexander McCall Smith's stories about the first female detective in Botswana.
Read the books in order. THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENY. TEARS OF THE GIRAFFE. MORALITY LESSONS FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS. THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2004
I'm a neophyte to this series. I guess I walked into the middle of the party, since The Typing School is number 4 of 7, to date. This book was easy reading, comforting, polite, and harking back to another less nasty age of human interaction. No grisly murders or inhuman brutality going on here. Not much crime either. But we have a strong moral compass monitoring the daily melodramas of life in the well-drawn person of Precious Romotswe, and we have an exotic backdrop of Botswana, which is described with precision as a lovely wayside stop in paradise that is slowly caving in to the vagaries of "modern" behavior (read rudeness).
I really liked the Typing School and recommend it as a pleasant resting place between more meaty fare. I also can see how indulging in such bon mots and straightforward writing found here can become habit-forming.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Mma. Precious Ramotswe muses, "I must remember how fortunate I am in this life, at every moment, but especially now, sitting on the veranda of my home in Zebra Drive, and looking up at the high sky of Botswana, so empty that the blue is almost white." Our wise protagonist has much to be thankful for, indeed. Now in her late thirties, ("the very finest age to be"), Mma Ramotswe is a successful entrepreneur, a top notch detective, the proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, engaged to be married to the wonderful Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, (the best mechanic in Botswana), foster mother of two lively children, homeowner, and a most respected member of the community.
Her life is not free of care, however. There are problems with her adopted son, a date has yet to be set for her wedding, and friend and colleague Grace Makutsi is having trouble finding a husband. Savvy assistant detective Makutsi, who has picked-up business acumen from her boss, opens the "Kalahari Typing School For Men," with a little help from her friends. This special all male school is necessary, as the guys are ashamed to sit in class with women. When Mma Makutsi is not busy looking for suitors, she is searching for potential students.
And across town there is new found competition for the Ladies' Detective Agency - always No. 1 in my book. Until recently, Precious Ramotswe had the only PI office in Gaborone. However, the "Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency" has just opened its doors and is ready for business. Arrogant, aggressive Cephas Buthelezi, the owner, a retired NYC cop, and a male chauvinist if there ever was one, is a master at fighting dirty. He has reopened the issue about a woman's place in the sleuth business...and is making inroads with the local clientele. He advises potential customers to, "Entrust your enquiries to a MAN!" Needless to say, the financial problems which have longed plagued Mma Ramotswe, significantly increase with the competition.
New cases include, a well-to-do engineer from Lobatse, who hires Mma Ramotswe to assist him in righting the wrongs he committed in the past. And, a potentially philandering husband is investigated with disturbing results.
Author Alexander McCall Smith's series is so outstanding because of his phenomenal characters, although the storylines are fascinating, and his elegant but simple writing style makes reading enjoyable. Precious Ramotswe is a jewel - an absolute original. Extremely intelligent, with outstanding intuitive capabilities, she possesses a keen perception of the human character. Along with perseverance, and a strong set of values, Mma Ramotswe inspires trust in most all who meet her. She is also good woman with a kind heart. Most inspiring is her deep and abiding love for Africa, and for Botswana and its people in particular. "They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries of their lives. That is what I am called to do."