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The Kalahari Typing School for Men: More from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency


The Kalahari Typing School for Men: More from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Cover

ISBN13: 9780375422171
ISBN10: 037542217x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School for Men, the fourth novel in the acclaimed Precious Ramotswe series.

1. What themes and situations recur throughout the Precious Ramotswe novels? In what ways are the books similar? What new characters and developments keep the stories fresh?

2. Mma Ramotswe observes, “The trouble with men, of course, was that they went about with their eyes half closed for much of the time. Sometimes Mma Ramotswe wondered whether men actually wanted to see anything, or whether they decided that they would notice only the things that interested them” [p. 17]. Is this an accurate assessment? What other statements about the differences between men and women occur in The Kalahari Typing School for Men? What perception about male psychology allows Mma Makutsi to open the typing school?

3. What prompts Mr. Molefelo to seek out Mma Ramotswe’s help? In what ways is his request different from what most people would ask of a private detective?

4. In considering the changing morality of modern times, Mma Ramotswe suggests that people are now “far too ready to abandon their husbands and wives because they had tired of them. . . . And friends, too. They could become very demanding, but all you had to do was to walk out. Where had all this come from, she wondered. It was not African, she thought, and it certainly had nothing to do with the old Botswana morality. So it must have come from somewhere else” [p. 107]. Where might such changes in attitude have come from? What are the consequences of this weakened sense of loyalty, in the novel particularly, and in society more generally?

5. How does Mma Ramotswe respond to Motholeli’s unhappiness? Why is she able to sympathize with the orphan girl’s pain so strongly? What important message does Mma Ramotswe give her?

6. Discussing the relationship between education and experience, Mma Potokwani says that “You don’t have to read a book to understand how the world works. . . . You just have to keep your eyes open.” Mma Ramotswe agrees but feels a “great respect for books. . . . One could never read enough. Never” [p. 130]. How does Mma Ramotswe herself embody a balance between knowledge gained from direct experience of life and knowledge gained from books?

7. Why does Mr. Cephas Buthelezi, the arrogant detective who tries to usurp Mma Ramotswe, decide to quit? Why do all his experience, training, and travels fail to serve him in Botswana? What does he lack that Mma Ramotswe has in abundance?

8. As Mma Ramotswe confronts Mr. Sleleipeng about his behavior toward Mma Makutsi, she refrains from lecturing him. “I could never be a judge, she thought; I could not sit there and punish people after they have begun to feel sorry for what they have done” [p. 178]. Where else in the novel does she exhibit this ability to listen without judging? How does this ethos differ from the typical ways of dealing with the guilty in American detective fiction and American life more generally? Why is Mma Ramotswe able to feel such compassion even for those who have clearly hurt others?

9. In place of violence and revenge, the Precious Ramotswe novels substitute understanding and forgiveness. How is Alexander McCall Smith able to make this reversal of values so satisfying, in both the literary and moral senses?

10. Near the end of The Kalahari Typing School for Men, as the novel’s various problems are being resolved, Mma Ramotswe observes, “It was astonishing how life had a way of working out, even when everything looked so complicated and unpromising” [p. 183]. Does the novel resolve its problems too easily? Or do these resolutions faithfully reflect the degree to which Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, Mr J.L.B. Maketoni, Mma Potokwani, and other characters live in harmony with their world?

11. Mr. Buthelezi trumpets his “toughness” and police-force experience in dealing with serious criminals, along with his knowledge of how detective work is done in New York and other big cities. Is Alexander McCall Smith poking fun, through the character of Mr. Buthelezi, at the kind of detective who appears in more conventional mystery novels? Why is Mr. Buthelezi so ill suited to the needs of the people of Botswana?

12. What is so appealing about the world in which Mma Ramotswe lives? In what ways is it different from contemporary American society? Are the values and attitudes of Mma Ramotswe translatable to American soil?

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dwrites, June 8, 2011 (view all comments by dwrites)
Everything about these novels sings with a lightness and yet a depth that is irresistible. No one can read one of these books and not set it down occasionally to contemplate the deceptively simple, yet profound, truths about living together on this earth, and how to do it well, revealed in Precious Ramotswe's investigations and observations, or to simply have a chuckle about the strange circumstances and new points of view (to our American ears) of those who populate these books.

In this installment of the series, now-assistant-detective Mma Makutsi strikes out on her own to found a typing school for a special subset -- men -- who would never think to show up at the secretarial school, which is, after all, for women. But clever Mma Makutsi recognizes that in this age of computers, even a man must learn to type, even if he must do it clandestinely.

Lucky for us, the wily assistant does not leave the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, but starts the school on her free evenings. The venture brings her a suitor but, as so often in McCall Smith's Botswana (and everywhere), things are not as they appear.

Meanwhile, in her usual wise and gentle manner, Mma Precious Ramotswe continues to solve peoples' problems, care for the two foster children she has been persuaded to take into her home on Zebra Drive, and drink bush tea, wondering when Mr JLB Matekoni might set a date for their wedding. Rra Matekoni, for his part, at long last stands up to the venerable matron of the orphanage who has so handily persuaded him to take in those two orphan children, telling her that the water pump at the orphanage is finally, irrevocably, beyond repair, even HIS capable repair. And wonder of wonders, she has acceded to finding the resources for a new one.

The mysteries resolved and problems solved by Mma Ramotswe are really just ways into a preachless and tender morality and a means to illustrate just how much each of us has, how many resources reside within and around us every moment of our being. In fact I have returned to this series after a month of very difficult news and knowing that hard times are ahead for myself and my family, and it has inspired and emboldened me, and kept my spirits high and right. I don't know if this is literary fluff or not, but does it matter?

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Product Details

Smith, Alexander McCall
Pantheon Books
McCall Smith, Alexander
New York
Mystery & Detective - General
Mystery & Detective - Series
Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths
Mystery fiction
Women private investigators
Ramotswe, Precious
Ramotswe, Precious (Fictitious character)
Mystery-A to Z
Edition Number:
1st American ed.
Edition Description:
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
April 29, 2003
Grade Level:
8.68x5.80x.82 in. .76 lbs.

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Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

The Kalahari Typing School for Men: More from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 192 pages Pantheon Books - English 9780375422171 Reviews:
"Review" by , "The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision. His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswanan landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such unalloyed pleasure for a long time."
"Review" by , "I was enchanted by the character of Precious Ramotswe and the sly humor of Alexander McCall Smith's writing, his deft evocation of a culture."
"Review" by , "In spots, Kalahari feels a wee rushed....But if the new edition doesn't quite live up to the superior Morality for Beautiful Girls, it still brims with good humor and compassion. (Grade: B+)"
"Review" by , "Readers who haven't yet discovered Mma Ramotswe will enjoy discovering how her quiet humor, understated observation, and resolutely domestic approach to detection promise to put Botswana on the sleuthing map for good."
"Review" by , "A dose of easy humor laces the pages, as McCall Smith throws in wry observations....This is another graceful entry in a pleasingly modest and wise series."
"Review" by , "The fourth title in an internationally popular series...features an exotic African setting and charming, memorable characters. Recommended."
"Review" by , "Reader, be warned: This is not your ordinary detective novel....The Kalahari Typing School for Men maintains the breezy-to-read, gentle tone of Smith's previous work, and leaves us wanting more adventures ASAP."
"Synopsis" by , Now that the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency 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 fiance, and many satisfied customers. But life is never without its problems.
"Synopsis" by , Now that the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is established, its founder, Precious Ramotswe, can look upon her life with pride. But life is never without its problems, as she discovers in this fourth book in a series the L.A. Times calls "thoroughly engaging and entertaining."
"Synopsis" by , Academy Award-winning writer/director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Cold Mountain), along with Sydney Pollack's company Mirage, will be producing The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency TV series with New Africa Media Films.
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