The Double Comfort Safari Club

DSC_8889The Double Comfort Safari Club is, I believe, a superb summer read. There’s a little mystery, several chuckles, a few snorts, a large dollop of satisfaction, a sob of grief, and beautiful words like quietude. When is the last time you’ve read quietude? It’s light reading that nourishes and feeds.

There is a moment that capsizes me. It’s when I read a phrase or paragraph that so perfectly captures what I’ve always known, but rediscover as though it is a new truth through the author’s description. That click makes me say Yes!, Of course!, or How did you know?

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Some kind people may not look kind. They may look severe, or strict, or even bossy, as Mma Potokwane sometimes did. But inside them there was a big dam of kindness, as there is inside so many people, like the great dam to the south of Gabarone, ready to release its healing waters.

And this:

…this woman, moved by some private sorrow as much as by the words being spoken, cried almost silently, unobserved by others, apart from Mma Ramotswe, who stretched out her hand and laid it on her shoulder. Do not cry, Mma, she began to whisper, but changed her words even as she uttered them, and said quietly, Yes, you can cry, Mma. We should not tell people not to weep—we do it because of our sympathy for them—but we should really tell them that their tears are justified and entirely right.

What makes me love Precious Ramotswe? The way she thinks of and remembers her late father; her sense of justice and putting things to right; her gratitude for the life she’s been given; her directness when dealing with difficult questions; her acceptance of the imperfections of life; her musings on the changes in Botswana, her unswerving hospitality; her patience with the impetuous Mma Makutsi. In a word, she is kind.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

mma1When I first read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, I chirped with evangelistic fervor about the series. But, a few disappointing books cooled that impulse to the point that I quit reading the last three books in this series.

A library hold came available so I read the books out of order. But the 14th book The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon has rekindled my love for the traditionally built Mma Ramotswe and and her quirky assistant, Mma Makutsi. This book might appear to be about a newborn baby, but on every level it is about friendship, about rearranging a relationship that expands from business to personal. Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi remind me of Marilla Cuthbert and Rachel Lynde in Anne of Green Gables.

Any book by Alexander McCall Smith will have his trademark humor. There were three snort-and-holler moments in this book. I don’t want to give them away, but prepare yourself for horse laughs.

Only to the extent that they reveal human nature do I care about the solving of mysteries in this book. No. I read for the gentle wisdom, the poignant words of Mma Ramotswe. She thinks, she ponders, she reflects. Death, sunlight, music, change, marriage, the pace of life, beauty, differences between men and women. And she truly loves Botswana. It’s so refreshing.

I don’t like Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s two mechanic apprentices: Charlie and Fanwell. Their characters are a waste of print. But I was surprised at Charlie’s response to the baby. He admires it, he wants to hold it; his cooing amuses and puzzles the women.

I want to highlight two passages whose beauty astonished me. One is a foot washing scene. Mma Ramotswe visits Mma Makutsi at her new home (she married Phuti Radiphuti) after a heavy rain. Her car gets stuck; she exits the car barefoot and walks through the mud to the front door.

Sidenote: only once have I participated in a foot washing ceremony. It was at a church retreat. The women gathered in a room and each one washed the feet of the person next to them. I felt humble shyness, willing to wash someone else’s feet but reluctant to have a friend wash my feet. It was emotional. It was potent. It was unforgettable.

“Let me wash them, Mma,” she said. “You sit there, I’ll wash your feet for you.”
Mma Ramotswe felt the warm embrace of the water and the slippery caress of the soap. The intimacy of the situation impressed itself upon her; that an old friend—and that was how she looked at Mma Makutsi—should do this for you was strangely moving.

And this short note on reconciliation:

And with that, she felt that most exquisite, and regrettably rare, of pleasures—that of welcoming back one who has left your life. We cannot do that with late people, Mma Ramotswe thought, much as we would love to be able to do so, but we can do it with the living.

Five solid stars and kudos to Alexander McCall Smith.