…There is one possible reservation to the enjoyment of these novels. McCall Smith is a white Scotsman writing exclusively about a black community in a country which he knows well, and which he clearly admires and loves. But he cannot claim to be an insider. Are his works patronising? Is there umbrage to be taken at his attempt to enter the minds and customs of the Botswanan people? I think not, and I believe that no exception has been taken in Botswana itself.
On the contrary, McCall Smith’s works have been praised for bringing to wider attention a country that rarely attracts international notice. It’s peaceful, democratic, beautiful, and one of the most economically successful in Africa, though much affected by Aids, a subject hardly mentioned by Mma Ramotswe.
But then, McCall Smith’s novels do not pretend to realism. It’s enough that they are witty, elegant, gentle, compassionate and exotic. There is little in his world, and that of Precious Ramotswe, that cannot be resolved by a cup of dark red bush tea.
I could not agree more with that Guardian reviewer: in fact, I think McCall Smith does Africa a great favour by seeing something other than disaster and disease and corruption, though problems lurk in the subtext: why is there an “Orphan Farm” for example? There is also an allusion to a character who has fairly clearly died of AIDS. It is good to read something positive, and not at all patronising, and political in the sense that it restores humanity to what it deals with — a necessary balance to the stories that usually come out of Africa from someone who obviously loves the continent. McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe.