Prolific author Alexander McCall Smith was born and raised in
Zimbabwe, and his love of African culture glows from every page of
his works. His word processor in Edinburgh must hum with activity
as he pours out not only the culturally rich and amusingly
satisfying cases confronting Mma Ramotswe, but also a syndicated
column and another series that stars a formidable Scottish woman.
Mma Ramotswe first took Britain by storm in 1998, and it wasn't
until 2001 that her charming methods of mitigating legal
entanglements in her small town crossed the pond to enchant
millions of American readers. McCall Smith shares a neighborhood
address with Harry Potter's creator, J.K. Rowling. One wag pondered
if there was something in the water.
McCall Smith collected over three dozen short legends and
folktales, passed from generation to generation in the African
veldt. Many of them he heard himself, translated over the years by
his Setswana-speaking friends in Botswana, and some were gathered
from others, then compiled into this charming slim volume. Intended
to convey moral lessons while they entertain their young listeners,
nearly all involve dangers through mythical allegories about
dangerous animals or people. A few are identifiable as variations
of Aesop or Grimm's Fairy Tales, but many are uniquely African. A
tale of a strong-willed girl who is in danger of becoming lunch for
a cannibal can be analogous in American culture as a warning
against child molesters. The dangers to African children are
different yet alarmingly similar. In "The Girl Who Married a Lion"
we are warned against the wolf in sheep's clothing, and you cannot
fail to see the parallel of "Beware of Friends You Cannot Trust"
and the old adage to not get your hand caught in the cookie jar.
Others are ghostly tales of loss and remorse yet told with humor
It's good news that Alexander McCall Smith has taken a three-year
leave of absence from his duties as a Professor of Medical Law in
Edinburgh, Scotland to focus on his writing. We look forward to
more adventures with Mma Ramotswe and will keep an eye on the BBC
for a series based on her unique crime-solving methods that
celebrate moral certainty, warmth and compassion.
THE GIRL WHO MARRIED A LION is the perfect bedside volume.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 22, 2011