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.
Excerpted from The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith. Copyright © 2013 by Alexander McCall Smith. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the beloved, bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is also the author of numerous children’s books. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh 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. Visit his website at www.alexandermccallsmith.com.
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?