Marriage Bureau for Rich People

If Alexander McCall Smith were to write a book about an Indian matchmaker, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People would be the book. Light and delightful, exotic yet familiar, this cheerful book charmed me.

Through Mr. Ali, a retired government clerk, and owner of a newly opened marriage bureau, and his assistant, Aruna, the details of daily life in India are displayed. How, for instance, offering a drink of water to a guest is traditional courtesy, necessary for basic hospitality. That doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but if you fail to offer the glass of water, great offense is given/taken. Zama names many of the Indian dishes/customs, but always offers an explanation. Some of the caste and religious distinctions are harder to grasp, but don’t distract from the flow of the story.

Gentle humor pops up like marshmallows in hot chocolate.

He scowled and turned to Ramanujam and said, “Take a seat.” He added, sotto voce, “You are taking our daughter, what’s a seat?” 

What I appreciated the most about Marriage Bureau is the perspective it gave me on arranged marriages. 

I never expected this of you…. Have you no thought of your family’s honor? And what about [her sister’s] future? Which respectable family will accept her into their household if you have a love marriage? I am disappointed in you. You are the last person I expected to do something like this.

We don’t marry for love. You know that. Love is supposed to follow marriage, not the other way around. A marriage is not just about two people. It is about two families.

Even better for understanding arranged marriage was this first-hand essay, First Comes Marriage, which Zama wrote for the New York Times. I am impressed and intrigued by Farahad Zama. Raised in the slums of an Indian coastal city, he was raised from the slums by the encouragement of his parents and his love of books. His acknowledgement at the end of the book made me smile: This book would not have been possible, but for […] My two boys, who think that all writers will be as famous and rich as J. K. Rowling. If only. 

Thank you to Laura, without whom, I would not have known about this title.


The World According to Bertie

Alexander McCall Smith, in The World According to Bertie gives us a sizable dose of our favorite six year old, Bertie Pollock. He is a precocious child who ‘wanted so much to be the average boy, but he knew that this would forever be beyond his reach.’ McCall Smith delivers more of his warm humor, cultural commentary, names of Scottish artists, and the lives of the familiar characters of his Edinburgh series. He is famous for his repeated adjectival phrases, such as the traditionally built woman, Mma Ramotswe.  In this book Matthew wears a distressed-oatmeal sweater and crushed-strawberry trousers. Never beige, Matthew’s distressed-oatmeal sweater appears with comedic frequency.

Bertie’s mummy Irene is laughable in all her pomposity: “It had to do with the idealisation of the female parental figure, or mother, to use the vernacular.”

What Miss Harmony faces in her job teaching: “Much had been forgotten, and the rest of the morning was devoted to the re-installation of vanished knowledge.”

Here are a few more quotes to sample:

We live in a culture of complaint
because everyone is always looking
for things to complain about.
It’s all tied in with the desire to
blame others for misfortune and
to get some form of compensation
into the bargain.



Exercise bicycles in gyms might be used, but this did not apply to those — the majority — bought for use in the home. They stood there, in mute affront to their owners, quite idle, before being moved to a spare room and ultimately to an attic. They there were recycled, which did not mean, in this case, that they had been cycled in the first place.

For light reading, and some laugh-aloud moments, I recommend The World According to Bertie.