Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith

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Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 1)

As is typical of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built opens in such a leisurely fashion that it appears to be headed nowhere in particular. However, while setting the tone for what is to come, the book’s opening chapters also provide clues to the resolution of the novel’s central mystery that are so subtle that most readers are apt to overlook them. Indeed, leisurely pacing and subtlety are among the chief pleasures of reading McCall Smith’s fiction. Just as Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s only female detective, is always acutely alert to nuances in people’s behavior, so must readers of her casebooks pay attention to subtle details to savor the stories’ full richness.

The novel opens with Mma Ramotswe and her assistant, Mma Makutsi, enjoying their morning tea while discussing the decline of walking among people. An intelligent woman who tends to be more strongly opinionated than she is informed, Mma Makutsi confidently asserts that people no longer walk enough because everyone is growing lazier. Although Mma Ramotswe is fully aware of her assistant’s proclivity for broad and unsupported generalizations, she takes this suggestion to heart and decides she should do more walking herself. In the very next chapter, she leaves her beloved tiny white van at home and makes the long journey to her office on foot. Her walk is relatively uneventful, except for the painful blister it produces on one of her feet. Though seemingly insignificant, that little mishap later comes to seem portentous.

The novel’s pace quickens in the third chapter, when an important new client visits Mma Ramotswe’s office: “Mr. Football,” Leungo Molofololo, the rich owner of Botswana’s top football (soccer) team, the Kalahari Swoopers. As pleasantries are exchanged, Mma Ramotswe mentions seeing a newspaper picture of Mr. Molofololo making a generous donation to a nursing charity. He responds by praising the work nurses do, casually adding that if he had been a woman, which is he happy to say he is not, he would have been a nurse.

This remark leads to an awkward discussion of the differences between men and women that becomes more pointed as Mr. Molofololo explains that his reason for coming to see Mma Ramotswe has to do with his football team. Mma Ramotswe and her assistant know nothing about the game, in which they clearly have no interest. Taking their disinterest in football in good humor, Mr. Molofololo says, “It is because you ladies are womenit is not something that women understand.” Belatedly realizing the sexist tone of his remark, he quickly adds that there are many things men do not understand that women do. Momentarily stumped to think of an example, he says, “There are many things. Women’s business. Shoes maybe. That sort of thing.”

Despite the apparently condescending nature of Mr. Molofololo’s remarks about women, Mma Ramotswe thinks to herself that he is right because “men do...

(The entire section is 2,422 words.)