Kira's Reviews > The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
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's review
Aug 13, 2007

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction

Just could not get past the very obvious fact that this book is written by a white guy, trying to tell a story through the eyes of a Botswana(ese?) woman. It felt a bit patronising, as in, look how simply these people live, just hanging out in the hot sun watching their cattle, oh to live so simply like this, oh look this woman is setting up a detective agency, can you imagine that, a woman? A black woman? How quaint and adorable, etc. etc. It was a cute story, but that was the problem, it was all just a bit too cute.
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Reading Progress

August 13, 2007 – Shelved
Started Reading
September 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
October 29, 2007 – Shelved as: fiction

Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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Susan Mr. McCall Smith was raised in Zimbabwe, so he may have more insight into how people in Africa live than we might think. Also, the book had a distict feminist tone, so I think he was certainly trying to see things from a woman's perspective. Kudos to him for that!

Kremena There are white Africans... I would consider the author one, and myself another. I think it is possible for the author to tell the story of a black Botswana woman without being condescending or "cute" because the feelings and observations about Botswana are not coming from an external reporter but from the experiences of someone who is African. It makes me sad that people think that it is not possible for white people to talk about black people in any other tone except patronizing or condescending, and I think this book exactly shows that it is possible to share an affection and appreciation of the good things about Africa whether you are black or white... in fact, I have gotten much more of this "black versus white" attitude since I have left Zimbabwe, than I ever did when I grew up there, and had black and white friends, and to us we were all Zimbabwean. So my suggestion is to try see this book as written by an African, rather than a "white man".

Susan Absolutely, Kremena! I think the response is hyper political correctness--If he is a white man, he must be a racist chauvinist pig.

Angela I respectfully disagree. I don't think that was the tone at all. People should not judge an author based on race. I wouldn't judge a black guy for writing about a white woman. Authors have the power and creativity to develop characters that are different from themselves because they are so good at observing and learning about people. I wouldn't be so quick to judge an author based on their gender or race.

Jorge I completly diagree with you and agree with Susan. He did have a look into African culture. Also, there is no need to judge a book by the ethnicity of the author just because he is white and he is writing about Motswana. I think, that if you just get passed all the sillines of who the author is and the title of the book as some males have said than you might be able to enjoy.

Stacey I agree. Even if he was raised in Africa. I felt his tone was very patronizing toward woman.

Kaushalya I am a South Asian woman sensitive to how non-South Asians write about South Asia and women. Before I read this, I was curious about the "white man" as Susan says. But I didn't get that at all. So I ask those who think this is patronising to women and Botswanas, if you didn't know this was written by a white man would you still pick on this as patronising?

Stacey Actually, I didn't know it was written by a white man until AFTER I read it, and I thought it was patronizing.

Joanna Nicholson I can't attest to the perceived patronizing tone toward Botswanas (as I am not one), but as a woman, I did not find his tone at all patronizing. Think about it: this is a story about a single, childless woman living in a culture where value is placed on being married and on motherhood; this woman faces a number of challenges (emotional and financial) due to her single, childless status, yet she manages to not only take care of herself and her father, but to succeed on her own merits in a pursuit that she enjoys and that utilizes her talents, all while demonstrating shrewd business savvy, competence and confidence (but never comprimising her femininity). How is that patronizing? It's a story of perseverance and fulfilling one's potential and dreams. Personally, it is a character I identify with, and I find her inspiring.

Margaret The only way that you can see this author as patronizing is if you are looking for examples.. and like to enterpret things w/o looking at background, culture etc. These books are written with love.

Melinda I don't think there's anything wrong with a white author writing about a black character if it's as well done as this book. Compare this with The Help, which I did have problems with, and you'll see what I mean.

MomToKippy yea and how about that horrible white woman Kathryn Stockett writing The Help? She has no business doing such a thing.

Kelly You people (can I say that I this politically correct nutty world?) are way way too petty. It is about a woman who has confidence!!! She is happy....she inspired me. It is based on reality, the culture as it actually is and her being her own person. I saw no patronizing....merely storytelling very very well done.

Leslie Kelly England: Me Too!

MomToKippy I hope all know I was being sarcastic above. These books are great. The main character is a strong woman who rejects the traditional role and does her own thing. She is happy in her own skin and states that she does not need a man to complete herself. Yet she is no femi-nazi. She is a great role model. And I find it fascinating that a man wrote these tales. bravo.

message 16: by Lee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee Rowan I think these books are great - and what shows is Dr. Smith's love of Botswana. Not long ago I had the opportunity to meet a woman of color whose husband was working in Botswana for a time, and another black lady--a psychologist--who thought the books were superb. I think that the condescension is in the review, not the book.

message 17: by Cornelia (new)

Cornelia Loos I had the same concerns upon reading the first two books: While they're very pleasant reads, the naivety of the majority of characters is a little worrisome. Especially since the American lady introduced in book no. 2 presents her case about her missing son succinctly and without any of the dumbed-down-y-ness we find in Precious' speech....

Tiffany He was born and raised in Africa- love the books in this series!!

message 19: by Cyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cyn [quote] I felt his tone was very patronizing toward woman. [/quote]

I'm not picking up on that tone at all.

message 20: by Cyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cyn If anything, his tone is condescending toward/about men. :p

message 21: by Gillian (new)

Gillian I have read No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency multiple times, as well as the sequels, and have never picked up on a patronizing tone. To author a work of fiction is to place yourself in another's shoes, something which Alexander McCall Smith does with grace and respect. Reading this charming series has been a privilege and a pleasure.

message 22: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Barton Kira, did you even read the books? Your comments are ignorant and childish.

Colleen Your criticism is fair. The author seems to understand this criticism as well and addresses this in the preface of book. So if one reads the book with this information then the story is more enjoyable. After all it's just a story told through the eyes of a white visitor who fell in love with the country; and absolutely that does not make HIM a reliable purveyor of life in Botswana. With that said, I enjoyed getting to know a little more about the culture of Botswana.

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