Modern ideas get tangled up with traditional ones in the latest intriguing installment in the beloved, best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.
Precious Ramotswe has taken on two puzzling cases. First she is approached by the lawyer Mma Sheba, who is the executor of a deceased farmer’s estate. Mma Sheba has a feeling that the young man who has stepped forward may be falsely impersonating the farmer’s nephew in order to claim his inheritance. Mma Ramotswe agrees to visit the farm and find out what she can about the self-professed nephew. Then the proprietor of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon comes to Mma Ramotswe for advice. The opening of her new salon has been shadowed by misfortune. Not only has she received a bad omen in the mail, but rumors are swirling that the salon is using dangerous products that burn people’s skin. Could someone be trying to put the salon out of business?
Meanwhile, at the office, Mma Ramotswe has noticed something different about Grace Makutsi lately. Though Mma Makutsi has mentioned nothing, it has become clear that she is pregnant . . . But in Botswana—a land where family has always been held above all else—this may be cause for controversy as well as celebration.
With genuine warmth, sympathy, and wit, Alexander McCall Smith explores some tough questions about married life, parenthood, grief, and the importance of the traditions that shape and guide our lives.
This is the fourteenth installment in the series.
This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
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About the Author
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland.
Date of Birth:August 24, 1948
Place of Birth:Zimbabwe
Read an Excerpt
There had been no further debate on the issue, and Mma Ramotswe had learned to steer clear of certain topics—such as that one—that could be guaranteed to elicit an extreme response from her somewhat prickly assistant. Mma Makutsi had many merits, she came to realise, and these easily outweighed her occasional faults. And now, with Mma Makutsi on maternity leave and the office seeming strangely quiet as a result, there was something else that she came to realise: she missed her assistant in a way and to a degree that she had never anticipated. She missed her occasional outbursts; she missed her comments on what was in the newspapers; she even missed the way in which she would intervene in the conversation Mma Ramotswe was having with clients, dropping in observations from her position to the rear and making them stop and turn their heads to reply to somebody over their shoulder—not an easy thing to do. All of that she missed, just as she missed Mma Makutsi’s knack of putting her teacup down on the desk in a manner that so completely revealed her thinking on the subject under discussion. There was nobody else she knew who could put a cup down on a desk to quite the same effect. It was, she decided, one of the many respects in which Mma Makutsi was—and here she could think of only one word to express it—irreplaceable. There simply could never be another Mma Makutsi. There could never be another woman from Bobonong, of all places, with flashing round glasses and ninety-seven per cent in the final examinations of the Botswana Secretarial College. There could never be another person who was even remotely capable of standing up to somebody like Mma Potokwane, or putting Charlie in his place when, with all the confidence and ignorance of the young male, he made some outrageous comment. If Mma Makutsi decided not to return from maternity leave then Mma Ramotswe thought that the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency would never be the same again, and might not be worth continuing with.
She looked about her. She had worked as a detective for some years now, and in that time she had done her best for her clients. She liked to think that she had made a difference to the lives of at least some people and helped them to deal with problems that had become too burdensome for them to handle on their own. Now, however, surveying the shabby little office, she wondered whether she really had achieved very much. It was a rare moment of gloom, and it was at this point that she realised she was doing something that she very seldom did. She supported many people in their tears—for tears could so easily come to those who were recounting their troubles—but there were few occasions on which she herself cried. If you are there to staunch the tears of the world, then it does not cross your mind that you yourself may weep. But now she did, not copiously but discreetly and inconsequentially, and barely noticeably—except to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who chose that moment to come into the room, wiping the grease off his hands, ready with a remark about what he had just discovered under the latest unfortunate car.
For a moment he stood quite still. Then, letting the lint fall from his hands, he swiftly crossed the room and put his arm about his wife’s shoulder, lowering his head so that they were cheek to cheek and she could feel the stubble on his chin and the warmth of his breath.
“My Precious, my Precious.”
She reached up and took his hand. There was still a smear on it—some vital fl uid of the injured car to which he had been attending—but she paid no attention to that.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “There is really no reason for me to cry. I am being silly.”
“You are not silly, Mma. You are never silly. What is it?”
With her free hand she took the handkerchief from where it was tucked into the front of her dress. She blew her nose, and with some determination too. After all, the blowing of a nose can be the punctuation that brings such moments to an end.
“I am much better now,” she said. “I have been sitting and thinking when I should be working. And without Mma Makutsi to talk to, well, you know how hard it can be to sit with the problems of other people.”
He knew, or thought he knew. Yes, he knew how she felt. “Just like cars,” he said. “You sit and look at a car and you think of all its problems, and it can get you down.”
“Yes, I’m sure it can.” She smiled at him. “I’ll be all right, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. Mma Makutsi will come back and everything will be the same again.”
He removed his hand from her shoulder and stood up. “I will make you tea,” he said.
She looked at him with fondness. For some reason, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni did not make very good tea. It was something to do with the quantities of tea he put in the pot, or with not allowing the water to boil properly, or with the way he poured it. For whatever reason, his tea was never quite of the standard achieved by her or by Mma Makutsi. So she thanked him and said that it would be good for her to do something instead of sitting at her desk and moping, and then she made the tea for herself and for her husband, and for Charlie and Fanwell too, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni took his cup back into the garage where he sipped at it thoughtfully while he decided what to do.
Reading Group Guide
This guide is designed to enhance your reading group’s focus on some of the main concepts in this The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, and explore different perspectives from each individual reader. Feel free to wander in your discussions, and use this as a guideline only!
1. What is the novel saying about friendship, in particular the friendship between Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi?
2. Kirkus Reviews has compared Alexander McCall Smith’s books to “a warm, understated serving of comfort food.” How is this novel like comfort food? And what role does comforting food play in McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels?
3. Describe the consumer culture Mma Ramotswe bemoans in the beginning of the book, where “everything is made to be thrown away rather than fixed. It is all very wasteful.” What are your thoughts on today’s throwaway culture? Do you do anything to personally counteract this trend?
4. McCall Smith describes the sounds of Mma Makutsi’s house, “the sounds that can be heard in every house if one has the time to listen.” Why should we occasionally stop and listen to these types of sounds, sounds that usually are just background noise?
5. What is the author saying about an individual’s memory and singular perception when he says “all of us had a view from somewhere; a view of the world from the perspective of who we were, of what happened to us, of how we thought about things”? Do you agree with him? Is it possible to alter this view?
6. Mma Ramotswe believes that “babies—ordinary babies—liked to look at the sky, or watch chickens, or suck on blankets. They did not want to add.” What do you think about this view of child rearing? If you’ve read 44 Scotland Street, compare this view with that of Bertie’s mother.
7. Take a closer look at McCall Smith’s chapter titles. What do they add to the story? Do you think the author has fun coming up with these headers?
8. Discuss Mma Ramotswe’s feelings about forgiving and forgetting. Do you agree that once you forgive, you should forget, “because if you did not forget, then your forgiveness would be tested . . . and you might go back to anger, and to hating.”? Can you provide any personal examples?
9. Upon learning about some of the potions used in Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, Mma Ramotswe wonders if there is “some sort of lemon juice for inside beauty” that takes away the blemishes and cleanses. What does she believe would make good potions for cleaning and healing a person inside? Do you agree?
10. Discuss superstitions in this book and in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series more generally. There are still many people in Botswana (and throughout the world) with strong local superstitions. What are Mma Ramotswe’s and Mma Makutsi’s views on them? What are yours? Do you have any superstitions you can’t let go of?
11. When she and Mma Ramotswe take a brief walk, Gwithie, points out a plant used as a remedy for some ailments: “Like almost everything in the bush, it has its uses.” Name some natural plant remedies from the Kalahari bush that appear in this book. Would you try them? Do you believe they are real or superstitions? Where do most of our healing medicines come from?
12. Though the novel celebrates the birth of Mma Makutsi’s baby, it mourns the loss of Mma Ramotswe’s and Gwithie’s. What is the place of grief in this novel?
13. “It’s just that sometimes it all gets too much for women and it would help a great deal if their husbands could be a little bit more modern,” says Mma Potokwane to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. Discuss this quote. What do you think about the relationship between Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni? Is it a traditional relationship or a modern one? Compare this quote and the relationships in the novel in light of the cultural conversations around recent books such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Debora Spar’s Wonder Women.
14. Mma Ramotswe holds back and doesn’t tell Mma Makutsi how intensely she misses her while she’s out on maternity leave, and how much she values their friendship. Why doesn’t she say everything she was thinking, and why does the author say that, “our heart is not always able to say what it wants to say and frequently has to content itself with less”? Why is the word not spoken just as important as what is voiced?