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• Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Alexander McCall Smith was born to a Scottish family in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) in 1948, the youngest of four children. His father worked in Rhodesia as a public prosecutor, in what was then a British colony. His mother wrote a number of unpublished manuscripts. After finishing school in Rhodesia, McCall Smith moved to Scotland to study Law at Edinburgh University.

After graduating, he worked as a professor in Scotland,then returned to Botswana to teach law at the University that he managed to create.

Alexander McCall Smith is an expert on genetics, he held roles in a number of national and international Bioethics Commission of UNESCO. He retired as a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University in 2005 due to his belated success as a writer. His other commitments could not be pursued because he preferred to dedicate his time to writing books and playing bassoon in an amateur orchestra that he co-founded in 1995, called “The Really Terrible Orchestra”. He currently lives in Edinburgh with Dr. Elisabeth Parry whom he married in 1982 and their two daughters.

McCall Smith twice received the Booker Prize for The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in 1998 and in 2004 he was named “Author of the Year” by the Booksellers Association and British Book Awards. In 2006 he was appointed a CBE -Commander of the Order of the British Empire- for services to literature and was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law in Edinburgh in 2007.

Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific and diverse writer; he produced an abundant and varied number of books ranging from children tales to picture books to legal text books to novels. But he became internationally known through his Botswana detective series first published in1998. The series in English sold millions of copies round the world and was translated into many languages. It was made into a television series and broadcast on BBC1 in 2008.

Tears of the Giraffe published in 2000 is the second Botswana detective story taken from the author’s Botswana series of nine novels. The first was The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Then followed Morality of Beautiful Girls in 2001, The Kalahari Typing School for Men 2001, The Full Cupboard of Life 2003, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies 2004, Blue Shoes and Happiness 2006, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive 2007, The Miracle of Speedy Motors 2008.

McCall Smith was born and raised in Africa, which helped him in his writing to successfully convey the essence of the African landscape, culture and society in its real day-to-day life and in all its complexity especially between the old and the new traditions and values. He doesn’t omit to describe, through his well developed and uncomplicated characters, the genuine Botswanan’s sense of courtesy and dignity which impressed him when he lived there and which stand out more in his books than the detective stories.

His style of writing is clear, passionate, charming and warm hearted which make his novels very popular even in Botswana where people liked the way the author portrayed their world. That is because they probably felt that, despite being a foreigner, he understood deeply the Botswanan’s nature.

Precious Ramotswe reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s miss Marple, is the star of the series, she owns the first female private detective agency in Botswana and probably in the whole of Africa. She deals with problems related to human lives more than serious crimes. An American mother who missed her son in a commune on the outskirts of the Kalahari desert ten years ago, seeks out Mma Ramotswe’s help to discover how and why her son died.

Mma Ramotswe, being kind and having lost a child in the past, accepts the sterile case out of compassion. The second case, a butcher who wants to know if his wife is cheating on him. The detective gives the simple case to her, now promoted secretary to the job of assistant, to investigate. Makutsi discovers that the wife has been cheating on her husband and that their son is not his. The moral issue arises: is it not better to protect an adulterer wife to avoid greater damage to the son’s future? There follows the debate between Mma Ramotswe and Makutsi over a cup of bush tea, about doing wrong in order to attain the right outcome.

Precious Ramotswe was not trained for detective work, yet she is successful because she relies mainly on her accurate intuition, her intelligence and wisdom and also on her valuable Principles of Private Detection manual. She is an old fashioned lady with old fashioned principles, just like the two other main, endearing characters in the book, her kind fiancé Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, the master mechanic of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and her trustworthy secretary/assistant Mma Makutsi.

The deep and detailed description of the main characters reveals a very positive portrait of the Botswanan people. They are hospitable, compassionate and value genuine love, taking their commitments seriously.

The author reveals to the readers at the end of the novel the meaning of its poetic title, when Ramotswe solves the mystery of the dead American son and offers the mother a traditional Botswana basket, woven with the giraffes’ tears; the only present a giraffe can offer.

In one of his interviews Smith admits that when he wrote the first book of the series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, he became so fond of the character of Precious Ramotswe that he could not let her go.

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