"The Tears Of The Giraffe"

The Tears Of The Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith
(Book 2 in The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series)

In the first book in this series we met Precious Ramotswe, an African woman who opens a detective agency in the small town of Gabarone, Botswana. She is a wonderful character, neither young or old, of "traditional build" (not-so-skinny), plainspoken, sensible and living by the moral code of " Old Africa" as her father had taught her.

Her detective skills are used this time to help a man who is worried his wife may be seeing someone else, and an American mother who is trying to find out what happened to her son when he disappeared in Africa ten years earlier.

In this volume the relationship between Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni continues to develop with the addition of two orphan children bringing a whole new dimension to their life as a couple. On the business side of things, Mma Ramotswe's secretary, Mma Makutsi begins to take a more prominent role in the story as she is promoted from secretary to "assistant detective".

I didn't enjoy this book as much as I did the first one, but can't quite put my finger on why, other than that Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni was referred to as Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni every single time he was mentioned. Even his fiance called him Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni. And there's something about the characters' way of communicating with each other that doesn't feel natural. It may be a cultural thing, but it seems like they are overly formal with each other, all the time.

I am enjoying what I'm learning about African life. It's all so completely foreign to me but that alone makes it interesting. I had wondered as I was reading why even the most ordinary of people seemed to have maids and was fascinated to read this: "It was a social duty to employ domestic staff, who were readily available and desperate for work. Wages were low - unconscionably so, thought Mma Ramotswe - but at least the system created jobs. If everybody with a job had a maid then that was food going into the mouths of the maids and their children. if everybody did their own housework and tended their own gardens, then what were the people who were maids and gardeners to do?" That's such a different mind-set than we hold in our society where we feel almost guilty about getting help. I have someone come in for an hour once a month to scrub my floors and after eight years I still feel uncomfortable about spending money on this luxury. I wish I could believe I was merely being a good citizen by paying someone else to do it for me.

Toward the end of the book, I came across a phrase I'd never heard before. Mma Ramotswe was pondering the moral dilemma of having to do a wrong thing to achieve a right thing and wishing her favorite detective magazine would make room for such discussions within it's pages so she could ask for advice. "Perhaps she could write to the editor anyway and suggest that an agony aunt be appointed; it would certainly make the journal very much more readable." What the heck is an agony aunt?

Turns out the definition of agony aunt is exactly what you would surmise from the above quote: "a newspaper columnist who gives advice to people having problems". I found all kinds of them online, mostly women but there are also "agony uncles" out there. Sometimes there is one name used , but with a team of people behind it giving advice in an "agony column". Dear Abby and Ann Landers are agony aunts. I feel rather silly now for not knowing that.

I have the next two books in the series on my shelves now so I'll read those and then decide if I want to go any further. Maybe I'll like the next one better; I had high hopes for this series and I'm not ready to give up on it just yet.


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