Synopses & Reviews
How to Find a Man
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.
But there was more. Some time ago, Mma. Ramotswe had become engaged to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and by all accounts the finest mechanic in Botswana, a kind man, and a gentle one. Mma. Ramotswe had been married once before, and the experience had been disastrous. Note Mokoti, the smartly dressed jazz trumpeter, might have been a young girl's dream, but he soon turned out to be a wife's nightmare. There had been a daily diet of cruelty, of hurt given out like a ration, and when, after her fretful pregnancy, their tiny, premature baby had died in her arms, so few hours after it had struggled into life, Note had been off drinking in a shebeen somewhere. He had not even come to say good-bye to the little scrap of humanity that had meant so much to her and so little to him. When at last she left Note, Mma. Ramotswe would never forget how her father, Obed Ramotswe, whom even today she called the Daddy, had welcomed her back and had said nothing about her husband, not once saying I knew this would happen. And from that time she had decided that she would never again marry unless--and this was surely impossible--she met a man who could live up to the memory of the late Daddy, that fine man whom everybody respected for his knowledge of cattle and for his understanding of the old Botswana ways.
Naturally there had been offers. Her old friend Hector Mapondise had regularly asked her to marry him, and although she had just as regularly declined, he had always taken her refusals in good spirit, as befitted a man of his status (he was a cousin of a prominent chief). He would have made a perfectly good husband, but the problem was that he was rather dull and, try as she might, Mma. Ramotswe could scarcely prevent herself from nodding off in his company. It would be very difficult being married to him; a somnolent experience, in fact, and Mma. Ramotswe enjoyed life too much to want to sleep through it. Whenever she saw Hector Mapondise driving past in his large green car, or walking to the post office to collect his mail, she remembered the occasion on which he had taken her to lunch at the President Hotel and she had fallen asleep at the table, halfway through the meal. It had given a new meaning, she reflected, to the expression sleeping with a man. She had woken, slumped back in her chair, to see him staring at her with his slightly rheumy eyes, still talking in his low voice about some difficulty he was having with one of the machines at his factory.
"Corrugated iron is not easy to handle," he was saying. "You need very special machines to push the iron into that shape. Do you know that, Mma. Ramotswe? Do you know why corrugated iron is the shape it is?"
Mma. Ramotswe had not thought about this. Corrugated iron was widely used for roofing: was it, then, something to do with providing ridges for the rain to run off? But why would that be necessary in a dry country like Botswana? There must be some other reason, she imagined, although it was not immediately apparent to her. The thought of it, however, made her feel drowsy again, and she struggled to keep her eyes open.
No, Hector Mapondise was a worthy man, but far too dull. He should seek out a dull woman, of whom there were legions throughout the country, women who were slow-moving and not very exciting, and he should marry one of these bovine ladies. But the problem was that dull men often had no interest in such women and fell for people like Mma. Ramotswe. That was the trouble with people in general: they were surprisingly unrealistic in their expectations. Mma. Ramotswe smiled at the thought, remembering how, as a young woman, she had had a very tall friend who had been loved by an extremely short man. The short man looked up at the face of his beloved, from almost below her waist, and she looked down at him, almost squinting over the distance that separated them. That distance could have been one thousand miles or more--the breadth of the Kalahari and back; but the short man was not to realise that, and was to desist, heartsore, only when the tall girl's equally tall brother stooped down to look into his eyes and told him that he was no longer to look at his sister, even from a distance, or he would face some dire, unexpressed consequence. Mma. Ramotswe felt sorry for the short man, of course, as she could never find it in herself to dismiss the feelings of others; he should have realised how impossible were his ambitions, but people never did.
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni was a very good man, but, unlike Hector Mapondise, he could not be described as dull. That was not to say that he was exciting, in the way in which Note had seemed exciting; he was just easy company. You could sit with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni for hours, during which he might say nothing very important, but what he said was never tedious. Certainly he talked about cars a great deal, as most men did, but what he had to say about them was very much more interesting than what other men had to say on the subject. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni regarded cars as having personalities, and he could tell just by looking at a car what sort of owner it had.
"Cars speak about people," he had once explained to her. "They tell you everything you need to know."
It had struck Mma. Ramotswe as a strange thing to say, but Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni had gone on to illustrate his point with a number of telling examples. Had she ever seen the inside of the car belonging to Mr. Motobedi Palati, for example? He was an untidy man, whose tie was never straight and whose shirt was permanently hanging out of his trousers. Not surprisingly, the inside of his car was a mess, with unattached wires sticking out from under the dashboard and a hole underneath the driver's seat--so that dust swirled up into the car and covered everything with a brown layer. Or what about that rather intimidating nursing sister from the Princess Marina Hospital, the one who had humiliated a well-known politician when she had heckled him at a public meeting, raising questions about nurses' pay that he simply could not answer? Her car, as one might expect, was in pristine condition and smelled vaguely of antiseptic. He could come up with further examples if she wished, but the point was made, and Mma. Ramotswe nodded her head in understanding.
It was Mma. Ramotswe's tiny white van that had brought them together. Even before she had taken it for repair at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, she had been aware of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, as a rather quiet man who lived by himself in a house near the old Botswana Defence Force Club. She had wondered why he was by himself, which was so unusual in Botswana, but had not thought much about him until he had engaged her in conversation after he had serviced the van one day, and had warned her about the state of her tyres. Thereafter she had taken to dropping in to see him in the garage from time to time, exchanging views about the day's events and enjoying the tea which he brewed on an old stove in the corner of his office.
Then there had come that extraordinary day when the tiny white van had choked and refused to start, and he had spent an entire afternoon in the yard at Zebra Drive, the van's engine laid out in what seemed like a hundred pieces, its very heart exposed. He had put everything together and had come into the house as evening fell and they had sat together on her verandah. He had asked her to marry him, and she had said that she would, almost without thinking about it, because she realised that here was a man who was as good as her father, and that they would be happy together.
Mma. Ramotswe had not been prepared for Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to fall ill, or at least to fall ill in the way in which he had done. It would have been easier, perhaps, if his illness had been one of the body, but it was his mind which was affected, and it seemed to her that the man she had known had simply vacated his body and gone somewhere else. Thanks to Mma. Silvia Potokwani, matron of the orphan farm, and to the drugs which Dr. Moffat gave to Mma. Potokwani to administer to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the familiar personality returned. The obsessive brooding, the air of defeat, the lassitude--all these faded away and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni began to smile again and take an interest in the business he had so uncharacteristically neglected.
Of course, during his illness he had been unable to run the garage, and it had been Mma. Ramotswe's assistant, Mma. Makutsi, who had managed to keep that going. Mma. Makutsi had done wonders with the garage. Not only had she made major steps in reforming the lazy apprentices, who had given Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni such trouble with their inconsiderate way with cars (one had even been seen to use a hammer on an engine), but she had attracted a great deal of new customers to the garage. An increasing number of women had their own cars now, and they were delighted to take them to a garage run by a lady. Mma. Makutsi may not have known a great deal about engines when she first started to run the garage, but she had learned quickly and was now quite capable of carrying out service and routine repairs on most makes of car, provided that they were not too modern and too dependent on temperamental devices of the sort which German car manufacturers liked to hide in cars to confuse mechanics elsewhere.
"What are we going to do to thank her?" asked Mma. Ramotswe. "She's put so much work into the garage, and now here you are back again, and she is just going to be an assistant manager and assistant private detective once more. It will be hard for her."
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni frowned. "I would not like to upset her," he said. "You are right about how hard she has worked. I can see it in the books. Everything is in order. All the bills are paid, all the invoices properly numbered. Even the garage floor is cleaner, and there is less grease all over the place."
"And yet her life is not all that good," mused Mma. Ramotswe. "She is living in that one room over at Old Naledi with a sick brother. I cannot pay her very much. And she has no husband to look after her. She deserves better than that."
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni agreed. He would be able to help her by allowing her to continue as assistant manager of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, but it was difficult to see what he could do beyond that. Certainly the question of husbands had nothing to do with him. He was a man, after all, and the problems which single girls had in their lives were beyond him. It was women's business, he thought, to help their friends when it came to meeting people. Surely Mma. Ramotswe could advise her on the best tactics to adopt in that regard? Mma. Ramotswe was a popular woman who had many friends and admirers. Was there not something that Mma. Makutsi could do to find a husband? Surely she could be told how to go about it?
Mma. Ramotswe was not at all sure about this. "You have to be careful what you say," she warned Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "People don't like you to think that they know nothing. Especially somebody like Mma. Makutsi, with her ninety-seven percent or whatever it was. You can't go and tell somebody like that that they don't know a basic thing, such as how to find a husband."
"It's nothing to do with ninety-seven percent," said Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "You could get one hundred percent for typing and still not know how to talk to men. Getting married is different from being able to type. Quite different."
The mention of marriage had made Mma. Ramotswe wonder about when they were going to get married themselves, and she almost asked him about this but stopped. Dr. Moffat had explained to her that it was important that Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni should not be subjected to too much stress, even if he had recovered from the worst of his depression. It would undoubtedly be stressful for him if she started to ask about wedding dates, and so she said nothing about that and even agreed--for the sake of avoiding stress--to speak to Mma. Makutsi at some time in the near future with a view to finding out whether the issue of husbands could be helped in any way with a few well-chosen words of advice.
During Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's illness they had moved the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency into the back office at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. It had proved to be a successful arrangement: the affairs of the garage could be easily supervised from the back of the building, and there was a separate entrance for agency clients. Each business benefited in other ways. Those who brought their cars in for repair sometimes realised that there was a matter which might benefit from investigation--an errant husband, for example, or a missing relative--while others who came with a matter for the agency would arrange at the same time for their cars to be serviced or their brakes to be checked.
From the Hardcover edition.
"This is the fourth (and the first to be published in hardcover) in a series of mysteries set in Botswana and featuring the founder of the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Precious Ramotswe. Mma Ramotswe, as she is respectfully called, is kind and clever, and a meticulous observer of human nature. Her investigations in this, as well as previous books, explore the byways of domestic and social crimes of the heart—a philanderer is exposed, a thief wants to make recompense for an earlier crime, a pompous bureaucrat is shamed into doing the right thing. Sweet without being cloying and charming without being coy, the stories in this novel share a warmth and generosity of spirit that has made Smith an overnight literary sensation." Reviewed by Patrick LaRochelle, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"Spare and neatly crafted, The Kalahari Typing School for Men sparkles with African sunshine and Mma Ramotswe's wit." The Dallas Morning News
"This loosely woven novel is as beguiling as Alexander McCall Smith's earlier books about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. His prose is deceptively simple, with a gift for evoking the earth and sky of Africa." The Seattle Times
"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." Kirkus Reviews
The phenomenal success of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
continues with the bestselling Kalahari Typing School for Men
, the fourth book in the series.
Mma Precious Ramotswe is content. Her business is well established with many satisfied customers, and in her mid-thirties ("the finest age to be") she has a house, two adopted children, a fine fiancé. But, as always, there are troubles. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has not set the date for their marriage. Her able assistant, Mma Makutsi, wants a husband. And worse, a rival detective agency has opened in town an agency that does not have the gentle approach to business that Mma Ramotswe's does. But, of course, Precious will manage these things, as she always does, with her uncanny insight and her good heart.
THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY - Book 4
Fans around the world adore the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the basis of the HBO TV show, and its proprietor Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective. In this charming series, Mma Ramotswe navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, and good humor—not to mention help from her loyal assistant, Grace Makutsi, and the occasional cup of tea.
Mma Precious Ramotswe is content. Her business is well established with many satisfied customers, and in her mid-thirties (“the finest age to be”) she has a house, two adopted children, a fine fiancé. But, as always, there are troubles. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has not set the date for their marriage. Her able assistant, Mma Makutsi, wants a husband. And worse, a rival detective agency has opened in town—an agency that does not have the gentle approach to business that Mma Ramotswe’s does. But, of course, Precious will manage these things, as she always does, with her uncanny insight and her good heart.
About the Author
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the huge international phenomenon, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and The Sunday Philosophy Club series. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana and at Edinburgh University. He lives in Scotland, where in his spare time he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra).
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. 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]. 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?
2. What prompts Mr. Molefelo to seek out Mma Ramotswes help? How is his request different from what most people would ask of a private detective?
3. 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” [pp. 109-110]. Where might such changes in attitude have come from? What are the consequences of this weakened sense of loyalty, both in the novel particularly, and in society more generally?
4. How does Mma Ramotswe respond to Motholelis unhappiness? Why is she able to sympathize with the orphan girls pain so strongly? What important message does Mma Ramotswe give her?
5. Discussing the relationship between education and experience, Mma Potokwani says, “You dont 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. 133]. How does Mma Ramotswe embody a balance between knowledge gained from life experience and knowledge gained from books?
6. 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?
7. As Mma Ramotswe confronts Mr. Selepeng 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. 183]. 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 in general? Why is Mma Ramotswe able to feel such compassion even for those who have clearly hurt others?
8. Near the end of The Kalahari Typing School for Men, as the novels 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. 188]. 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?
9. Mr. Buthelezi trumpets his “toughness” and police-force experience in dealing with serious criminals, along with his knowledge of how detective work is carried out in New York and other big cities. Through the character of Mr. Buthelezi, is Alexander McCall Smith making a statement about 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?
10. 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 into American life?
11. If you have read any of the other novels in the series, what are the recurring themes and situations? In what ways are the books similar? How does Alexander McCall Smith keep the stories fresh?
12. In place of violence and revenge, the novels in the No. 1 Ladies Detective series 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?
"Spare and neatly crafted. . . . Sparkles with African sunshine and Mma Ramotswe's wit." —The Dallas Morning News
The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Alexander McCall Smiths The Kalahari Typing School for Men, the fourth novel in the acclaimed No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.