Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tea Time For The Traditionally Built

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, by Alexander McCall Smith, was a birthday present from my family, so I read it while lounging in the wading pool on what turned out to be a rather cool but extravagantly sunny day, and it was quite a pleasant way to read about the heat and dust of Botswana. In this latest volume (previously reviewed: Morality for Beautiful Girls and The Miracle at Speedy Motors), Mma Ramotswe's "tiny white van" can no longer be repaired and the ever-thoughtful Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni replaces it with a medium-sized blue one. I've puzzled over how a van can be tiny since I began reading these books; I got a slightly better idea in France, where even vans are made very narrow.

As usual, once I relaxed into the slow pace of the writing, the charms of the way Mma Ramotswe thinks about even the smallest of tasks become apparent. She gets up early one morning and enjoys "the brief private time before the others would get up and start making demands of her. There would be breakfast to prepare, children's clothes to find, husband's clothes to find too; there would be a hundred things to do." But she resolves to take the advice of the person who told her that "our concern should be what is happening right now. 'There is plenty of work for love to do'....Yes, one should not worry too much." I think a mother of teenagers might want to reread that section every night before going to bed.

There are always incidental pleasures in reading about Mma Ramotswe's daily rounds. I loved her description of Sherlock Holmes: "He was a very famous detective....Over that way....He lived in London. He is late now."

We find out the name of the younger apprentice in this book, and even get to see where he lives. Mma Ramotswe finds that he understands how she feels about the loss of the tiny white van, and realizes "how easy it is to misjudge the young, to imagine that they share none of the more complex emotions that shape our lives as we grow older."

My favorite scene in this book centers around the extended description of Mma Ramotswe's premonition that something bad will happen to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni on a day trip he is taking. Like my father's premonitions always are, hers is wrong, and when she sees him getting out of his truck at the end of the day "she stopped her van where it was, some yards short of its normal place at the side of the house, and she got out and ran to him, the lights of the van still burning." The even-more-often-than-usual references to the way she is "traditionally built" throughout this book make the scene poignant and funny at the same time.

Also Mma Makutsi gets a new pair of shoes in this one. I also got a new pair of shoes as a birthday present, and some "red bush tea" from the cafe at Borders. Have you noticed that they carry it there now?


Rohan Maitzen said...

I agree that the understated presentation of these novels allows us to appreciate the small details of character and setting. I thought the recent TV adaptation did quite a good job of keeping that sense of delicacy and humor but also brought out the human pathos and tenderness that I especially like about the stories.

Poppy Buhk-suhm said...

I love those books--especially on audiobook, because Lisette Lecat does the accents so wonderfully---but I think I need to start reading them again for myself--to slow the pace down.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why I enjoy those books so much, and also the Isabel Dalhousie ones, but I do. They're like a bath, or a day on the sofa.

Jeanne said...

Rohan, I need to see the TV version! Poppy, I need to hear the audiobook version!
Readersguide, yes, they're like that, exactly.