Synopses & Reviews
In this seventh installment in the internationally bestselling, universally beloved series, there is considerable excitement at the shared premises of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.
cobra has been found in Precious Ramotswe's office. Then a nurse from a local medical clinic reveals to Mma Ramotswe that faulty blood-pressure readings are being recorded there. And it looks as though Aunty Emang, the advice columnist in the local newspaper, may not be what she seems.
It all means a lot of work for Mma Ramotswe and her inestimable assistant, Grace Makutsi, and they are, of course, up to the challenge. But there's trouble brewing in Mma Makutsi's own life. Her greedy uncles are demanding an extra-large bride price from her well-to-do fiancé, a man of substance, Phuti Radiphuti, and though money may buy her that fashionably narrow (and uncomfortable) pair of blue shoes, it won't buy her the happiness that Mma Ramotswe promises her she'll find in simpler things in contentment with the world and enough tea to smooth over the occasional bumps in the road.
"Readers will find happiness and remember it too, long after closing Blue Shoes." USA Today
"Enchanting." The New York Times Book Review
From universally beloved author Alexander McCall Smith, comes this seventh installment in the bestselling No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series featuring Botswanas best-loved detective. Life is good for Mma Ramotswe as she sets out with her usual resolve to solve peoples problems, heal their misfortunes, and untangle the mysteries that make life interesting. And life is never dull on Tlokweng Road. A new and rather too brusque advice columnist is appearing in the local paper. Then, a cobra is found in the offices of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Recently, the Mokolodi Game Preserve manager feels an infectious fear spreading among his workers, and a local doctor may be falsifying blood pressure readings. To further complicate matters, Grace Makutsi may have scared off her own fiancé. Mma Ramotswe, however, is always up to the challenge. And Blue Shoes and Happiness will not fail to entertain Alexander McCall Smiths oldest fans and newest converts with its great wit, charm, and great good will.
About the Author
Alexander McCall Smith has written more than fifty books, but he is best known as the author of the internationally acclaimed series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, of which Blue Shoes and Happiness is the seventh volume. He has also written the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series, as well as children's books. He was born in Zimbabwe, then called Southern Rhodesia, and educated there and in Scotland. He returned to Africa to help set up the new law school at the University of Botswana. He was also a Professor of Medical Law at Edinburgh University. He lives in Scotland.
Reading Group Guide
1. “We are all human beings, and human beings cant really help themselves. Have you noticed that, Mma? We cant really help ourselves from doing things that land us in all sorts of trouble” (p. 4). From this observation, spoken by Mma Ramotswe to Mma Makutsi, proceeds the plot of Blue Shoes and Happiness
. How are the characters in this story responsible for creating their own problems?
2. Why does Mma Ramotswe rely so loyally upon the advice of Clovis Andersens The Principles of Private Detection? Consider this example: “Keep your mouth shut at all times, but at the same time encourage others to do precisely the opposite” (p. 12). What does Mma Ramotswe admire about such advice? How does she judge the quality of the advice given by Aunty Emang, the newspaper columnist? What do you think of Aunty Emangs advice? What about Clovis Andersens?
3. Much of the satisfaction of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels lies in their precise observations of daily life as experienced by women: “That was part of being a woman, [Mma Ramotswe] thought; one never reached the end. Even if one could sit down and drink a cup of bush tea, or even two cups, one always knew that at the end of the tea somebody was waiting for something” (pp. 12-13). Is it at all surprising that the writer of these observations is a man? Why do you suppose that Alexander McCall Smith has so much empathy for his female characters?
4. Although the HIV/AIDS crisis is a major health problem facing Africa today Alexander McCall Smith addresses it in subtle and delicate ways in his series such as in the following exchange: “Ever since women allowed men to think that they did not need to get married, everything has gone wrong,” Mma Ramotswe tells a client. The client replies, “Look at the mess. Look at what all this unfaithfulness has done. People are dying because of that, arent they?” (pp. 35-36). How does the author address the crisis in this book, and if youve read the others, in the series? Why do you think he handles it in this fashion? How do you feel about his treatment of the crisis?
5. Charlie and the younger apprentice fail to trap a cobra that has invaded the office. Why might the chapters title, “Correct and Incorrect Ways of Dealing With a Snake,” also be “Correct and Incorrect Ways of Being a Man”? Why does Mma Ramotswe conclude about the incident, “Snakes were one of the tests which life sent for us, and there was no telling how we might respond until the moment arrived. Snakes and men. These were the things sent to try women, and the outcome was not always what we might want it to be” (p. 26)?
6. Grace Makutsi has several mental conversations with her shoes; see for instance pages 64-65 and 108. How do they convey a part of Mma Makutsis character? What do the blue shoes represent for her? How difficult is it for her to come to terms with the fact that they were not a practical purchase?
7. What is the mistake that Mma Makutsi makes when telling Phuti Radiphuti that she is feminist (pp. 54-55), and why doesnt she see this problem in advance? What feelings does she evoke when she says to herself, “I am a girl from Bobonong, with glasses.” (p. 88)?
8. In Mokolodi a tourist asks Mma Ramotswe to take a photograph of her and a friend who, she says, is terminally ill (pp. 126-27). Discuss this incident, with regard to Mma Ramotswes actions and her feelings about the dying woman. Discuss also the passage on page 114, which describes Mma Ramotswes feelings about her father and about her baby who died. What do these scenes tell us about Mma Ramotswes spiritual qualities?
9. Mma Tsau, who has threatened Poppy with dismissal, turns out to be a woman who loves her philandering husband too much. How does Mma Ramotswe deal with the villains of the novel—Mma Tsau, Aunty Emang, and Dr. Lubega? What skills does she use in solving these cases? How does her attitude differ toward each of the women and why?
10. Mr. J. L. B. Maketonis two apprentices are representative, for Mma Ramotswe, of a larger problem with the future of Botswana: the young people are abandoning the cultures traditional values. Regarding the promiscuity of girls and boys alike, she thinks, “One should just not do it, because that was not how the old Botswana morality worked. There was such a thing as shame…although there were many people who seemed to forget it” (p. 59). Does it seem that, according to Mma Ramotswe, relations between men and women are crucial to the structures upon which society rests?
11. The old Botswana morality is exemplified in the following passage: “So it was in Botswana, almost everywhere; ties of kinship, no matter how attenuated by distance or time, linked one person to another, weaving across the country a human blanket of love and community. And in the fibres of that blanket there were threads of obligation that meant that one could not ignore the claims of others. Nobody should starve; nobody should feel that they were outsiders; nobody should be alone in their sadness” (p. 68). Do these ethical principles of responsibility and caring still exist as a basic element of American culture? How are they reflected in this book? Do they seem as pervasive in Botswana as Mma Ramotswe believes?
12. Alexander McCall Smith has said that his novels “represent the range of things I would like to say about the world.” What are the most important ideas among the “range of things” represented by this book and others in the series?
13. Book reviewers and fans agree that the novels in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series give a great deal of reading pleasure. Does this pleasure mask their moral seriousness, or is their moral seriousness part of what makes them pleasurable?
14. A typographic design, repeating the word Africa, follows the novels final sentence. How does this affect your reading of the ending, and what emotion does it express?
The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Alexander McCall Smiths Blue Shoes and Happiness, the seventh installment in the acclaimed No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.