Good Minds Suggest—Alexander McCall Smith's Favorite Books Set in the Tropics

February, 2014
Alexander McCall Smith Young love blossoms on the tropical white sand beaches of Grand Cayman Island in Alexander McCall Smith's new novel, The Forever Girl. His heroine, Clover, grows up in the monied expat community of the Caribbean's tiny paradise, and at the ripe age of six falls for her childhood best friend, James. Clover's not-always-requited love is so stubborn and enduring, it will shape her life for decades to come.

Better known for his stories set in Botswana and Scotland, McCall Smith is the author of many mysteries, including the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and the Isabel Dalhousie series. His best-selling superstardom came late in life following an equally illustrious academic career in law and medical ethics. This Renaissance man shares his favorite novels set in the tropics.

The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell
"Singapore at the time of the Japanese invasion was a very different place from the shining modern city-state it is today. In those days it was a steamy trading port in which British colonial officials sweated out their tour of duty while their more fortunate compatriots ran commercial empires. Farrell's atmospheric novel recounts what happens when a family is caught up in the fall of the city to the Japanese Army."


A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
"Naipaul, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2001, wrote a number of charming novels about the island of his birth, Trinidad. A House for Mr. Biswas gives us an insight into the aspirations of a member of the island's Indian community. Caribbean islands have complex, pluralistic societies: As in all of Naipaul's novels set in that part of the world, humor and acute social observation go hand in hand."


Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan
"R.K. Narayan was one of the earliest Indian novelists to write in English for a western audience as well as a local one. Swami and Friends was his first novel, published in 1935, and the start of a charming series of books about Malgudi, a town in India filled with colorful characters. These novels are lovely, delicately wrought depictions of a small-town world that we all would recognize, wherever we live."


The Comedians by Graham Greene
"Graham Greene had a nose for run-down, seedy tropical settings; so much so that there is a term, 'Greeneland,' for the world that he depicts. The Comedians is set in Haiti at the time of that sinister dictator, François Duvalier, or Papa Doc as he was called. A decaying hotel, the Tontons Macoutes (Duvalier's sunglass-wearing thugs), and sundry characters struggling to make a living in a corrupt world: What more could one want in a tropical novel?"


Collected Short Stories by W. Somerset Maugham
"Maugham was an absolute master of the short story, and the four-volume collection currently available includes his famous tropical stories. Two stand out as masterpieces of the genre: 'Rain,' which is a stunning portrayal of the moral fall of a hypocrite trying to impose an alien code of conduct, and 'The Outstation,' set upriver in Southeast Asia. The latter contains one of the most memorable descriptions in literature of the effect of loneliness and climate on people stuck in isolated and hot places."



Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Books Set in Tropical Locations



Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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message 1: by Padmini (new)

Padmini I hope this new book by Alexander McCall Smith is as good as his earlier ones on Botswana and Scotland.


message 2: by Deepa (new)

Deepa I've read the No.1 Ladies Detective Series and thoroughly enjoyed them.


message 3: by Padmini (new)

Padmini The No.1 Ladies Detective Series is really awesome. :)


message 4: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Hotchkiss Reading Alexander McCall Smith's books make me feel better about the world because he is in it. Love the Dalhousie books , actually have read all his books except the Number i Ladies Detective Agency set.


message 5: by Linrob3824 (new)

Linrob3824 So glad to see McCall Smith has another novel. He never disappoints. I was highly entertained by all of the Botswana detective stories and was inspired by his Isable Dalhousie, Corderoy, 44 Scotland Ave and all other of his series. He always makes sense to me, bringing back a reminder of civility, thoughtful people and those who care about humane outcomes. I wish him to live forever, bringing sanity into the lives of his readers.


message 6: by Trish (new)

Trish Watson I love all the novels, but find Isabel Dalhousie a tad irritating because she is so perfect and rational and non-neurotic,though essentially cold. I am, of course, terribly envious, not of the younger man (God Forbid!) but the lovely house in wonderful Edinburgh and the perfect housekeeper cooking wonderful food. Who could possibly like such a woman!


message 7: by Linrob3824 (new)

Linrob3824 I totally agree with your assessment. Although I don't understand Isabel (my being an emotional person), it is good to know that such lives exist. I find reading her observations to be comforting in that there may actually be such a peaceful community in this life. Please read his "#1 Ladies Detective Agency" mysteries. [I think there are 10 of them.]


message 8: by Trish (new)

Trish Watson Thanks they were the first I read love them.


message 9: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Hotchkiss However, he missed the boat on Forever Girl, his new novel. Not anything like the previous ones. I was really disappointed.


message 10: by Trish (new)

Trish Watson Virginia wrote: "However, he missed the boat on Forever Girl, his new novel. Not anything like the previous ones. I was really disappointed."

I haven't read that one yet. Perhaps I wont bother! Trish


message 11: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Hotchkiss A visit from my daughter...
".I read it Mom and it's just a bit of fluff unlike anything else he ever wrote. He must have been having a bad week. However the latest Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana was GREAT!"


message 12: by Padmini (last edited Feb 25, 2014 03:09AM) (new)

Padmini I think I will stick to reading about life and tiny mysteries in Botswana and the way The Ladies Detective Agency solves them! The series is truly amazing. Is there a new book in that series? I would love to read it.


message 13: by Liza (new)

Liza Lorenz Love pretty much anything Alexander McCall Smith. Look very forward to reading this.


message 14: by Toni (new)

Toni I await another Isabel Dalhousie, with her charmed life and charming child.


message 15: by Trish (new)

Trish Watson I love the precocious little boy with the basket case mother. A Scottish book?


message 16: by Padmini (new)

Padmini Trish, I think the book is 44 Scotland Street?


message 17: by Grant (new)

Grant Somerset Maugham's short stories have given me many hours of pleasure, and even joy.


message 18: by Trish (new)

Trish Watson That's it. I love the gentle irony a bit austenish


message 19: by Padmini (new)

Padmini Austenish...which means?I must reread Somerset Maugham. I read them so long back.


message 20: by Trish (new)

Trish Watson Sorry I'm talking about SMS. What a gaffe


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