To see Botswana through Mma Ramotswe's eyes is to experience a country rich in beauty and tradition and proud of its independence. At the same time, Mma Ramotswe's Botswana is subject to the foibles of societies everywhere—bad people take advantage of good people. But it's the good people who come shining through in McCall Smith's depiction of African life. In his novel, I found portraits of honesty, love, perseverence, and reverence for the natural world. Mma Ramotswe cannot fathom wanting to live anywhere but Africa.
So often, descriptions of Africa focus on corruption, disease, cruelty, and suffering. I found the picture painted in McCall Smith's novel uplifting. Granted, the author, a white man of British background who grew up in Zimbabwe and currently lives in Scotland, might not be regarded as an authentic voice of black Africa, especially as channeled through a female protagonist. Yet McCall Smith, who lived in Botswana for a year and has visited annually for many years, may be the ideal person to communicate the special qualities of Africa, and Botswana in particular, to white westerners.
After finishing the book, I did a little research and learned that Botswana, a landlocked country almost the size of Texas, has undergone an impressive transformation since it achieved independence from Great Britain in 1966. At that time, it was one of the most impoverished countries in Africa. Today, with a democratic political system and a market society that enables a majority of its citizens to live above the international poverty line, Botswana is considered one of Africa's success stories. I may never actually travel there, but I intend to continue following Mma Ramotswe's adventures. I look forward to many pleasurable hours inhabiting Botswana in my imagination.