I have written many times about Alexander McCall Smith and how he has charmed his way into my list of favorite authors.
In “Precious and Grace,” the 17th(!) novel in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Smith takes a stray dog, a naive friend of Mma Ramotswe who unwittingly becomes part of a pyramid scheme, and a Woman of the Year contest (no, neither Precious Ramotswe nor Grace Makutsi are nominees) to paint a picture of a gentle world where everything comes out right. This being a mystery series, however, there is a case of a woman who returns to Botswana to reconnect with her past. She hires the agency to locate her old nanny, a woman she only knew as Rosie some 30 years before, with only a blurry, faded photograph to help.
These books have become formulaic in a good sense: I know that whatever the trouble is, it will be set right by the last page and that soon there these two Botswanan women will be at the center of another quiet, gentle adventure that will make me smile and reaffirm my faith in all things that are good because they are in the hands of a man who is optimistic and content.
Instead of trying to convince you to read this book, I will let his words do that. Here are three excerpts that reveal the big heart in the center of these books.
- In this first excerpt, Mma Ramotswe buys a down-on-his-luck friend a tie at the market: “But why,” he asks. “Because you have helped me in the past, Rra. Because you have given me your company. Because we have worked together. Because you are a good, kind man, an many people take good, kind men for granted and never say thank you to them. Because of all these reasons I’m giving you a tie.”
- In this second scene, Mma Ramotswe is sitting with her husband at the end of a long day. “Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni,” she asked, “do you think that our souls grow as we get older?” “Yes,” he said. “Our souls get wider. They grow like the branches of a tree—growing outwards. And more birds come and make their homes in these branches. And sing a bit more.”
- And, finally, there’s this, from a long and lovely church sermon on forgiveness. There is much in this that could be quoted, but I particularly like the way it begins. “Somebody asked me the other day when we should start teaching children about forgiveness. I was surprised by the question because I think that forgiveness is one of the first things. Forgiveness is at the heart of the way we live our lives—or should be. So when we teach our children about the things they need to know about the world—about how not to touch fire, about how to wash their hands or put on there shoes; yes, even about the map of our world, about where Africa is, and Botswana, about where the Limpopo runs or the Okavango, about where the great Kalahari lies—all these things, we should also remember to teach them about forgiveness. We must teach them that when another person wrongs us—hurts us, perhaps—we should not strike back, but should be ready to forgive. We must teach them that if we do not forgive then we run the risk of being eaten up with hatred inside, and that hatred is like acid, that it will gnaw and gnaw away. That is why forgiveness must be taught right at the beginning, when we are teaching about these first things.”
Smith’s lessons are “first things” we learned long ago but have forgotten amid the sometimes crushing weight of the everyday. These books remind me that we shouldn’t make that mistake.