Shoma Patnaik's Reviews > Blue Shoes and Happiness

Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith
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's review
Apr 19, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: 2011, detective, food, humour, mystery, nature, rural, society, africa
Read in April, 2011 — I own a copy

The only other book in the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series I've read is the first one and so perhaps I should have waited to read books number two to six before jumping straight to the seventh in the series. However, I couldn't resist buying whatever was available when I went to the book store yesterday and in any case, I have maintained a rich tradition of reading books out of order.

It goes without saying that reading this one was as enjoyable as the first one, the warm Botswana sun a welcome relief from the dank darkness of the other mystery novels I've been reading lately. Although, I don't know if this is strictly a detective story; it seems so much more. In this book, Precious Ramotswe, joined by the trusty Mma Makutsi and the very pleasant Rra Polopetsi tackles blackmail, witchcraft, overpriced medicine and dieting. There are loving references to food and spectacularly named people like Phuti Radiphuti (I wanted to speak the name out aloud every time it appeared). People in Botswana must have the most wonderful names, they're like little songs.

In this book too, Alexander McCall-Smith brings out the poetry of the everyday. The book engages you because it captures life as it actually is, with both little comedies and little tragedies, things insignificant and profound. The last few pages are characteristic of this, they talk about fruit cake and the traditionally built, but McCall-Smith chooses to end the book with such moving words: "And in her mind's eye she saw the winding paths of Mochudi, and the cattle pens, and the small walled-off plot of ground where a modest stone bore the inscription, Obed Ramotswe. And beside the stone there were wild flowers growing, small flowers of such beauty and perfection that they broke the heart. They broke the heart."

It doesn't matter that the book is about people who - on the surface - are different from you. I've never been to Africa and I'm not traditionally built but I find it easy to connect to the characters and look at them as they are, not as detectives or mechanics or even just Batswana. Yes, they are from a foreign land, but they are also like people you might meet on your own street. I love the basic goodness of the characters. They are certainly not without failings but, and this is the important thing, they choose to do the right thing, they choose to overlook sadness and defeat and focus the good.

When I first flipped through the book, moving past the blurbs, one caught my eye partly because it was from someone other than the usual writers that write these things, but also because I though the review captured the secret to the success of the series. This is what the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers had to say, and I agree: "I highly recommend them if you like to be happy."

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