The Full Cupboard of Life

The Full Cupboard of Life

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by Alexander McCall Smith
     
 

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"In this fifth novel in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, we are once again transported to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, and enter the world of Mma Precious Ramotswe and her friends." "Mma Ramotswe is engaged to Mr. J. L. B. Matchani. She wonders when the wedding date will be set, but she is anxious to avoid putting too much pressure on her fiance. For,…  See more details below

Overview

"In this fifth novel in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, we are once again transported to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, and enter the world of Mma Precious Ramotswe and her friends." "Mma Ramotswe is engaged to Mr. J. L. B. Matchani. She wonders when the wedding date will be set, but she is anxious to avoid putting too much pressure on her fiance. For, indeed, he has other things on his mind - notably a frightening request made of him by Mma Potokwane, the pushy matron of the Orphan Farm." And there is the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency to tend to. Mma Ramotswe has been hired to determine whether the several suitors of a wealthy woman - who made her fortune in hair braiding salons - are really interested in her, or only in her money. A difficult task, but no one can match Mma Ramotswe in resourcefulness and spot on intuition.

Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Mma Precious Ramotswe, founder of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, is a full-figured lady with a very busy and happy life. She has work that challenges and fulfills her. She's engaged to one of the finest mechanics in Botswana -- a man she respects and loves. Her home on Zebra Drive pleases her. Her assistant and protégée, Mma Makutsi (founder of the Kalahari Typing School for Men), is flourishing. And Precious is enjoying managing the lives of the two foster children her fiancé brought to her from the orphan farm. All told, her cupboard of life is practically bursting with blessings.

Of course, even the happiest life has some troubles…and right now Precious has her share of those as well. In this fifth volume of the bestselling series by Alexander McCall Smith, marriage is much on Mma Ramotswe's mind. She's somewhat concerned that, despite the fact she's been engaged to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni for some time now and is absolutely certain of his affection, her beloved has proven most unwilling to set a date to make her the happiest of women. At present, even work offers her little distraction. The case that currently occupies her attention involves still more matrimonial problems, notably checking up on several potential suitors vying for the hand of a wealthy lady who owns a chain of hair braiding salons. Precious knows that her own suitor is an honorable gentleman who would never marry for money or prove otherwise unworthy of any trust that has been placed in him. But it's still not easy for her to be spending so much time in the company of men who do not live by such high standards. And it's worrying her that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni seems to have several other concerns that he's allowing to take precedence over their long-delayed matrimonial plans. Of course, it's only natural for him to be absorbed in properly training the all-too-distractible apprentices in his charge. And it is also perfectly understandable that he would be preoccupied about making the parachute jump for charity that the matron of the orphan farm has arranged. And anyone would worry about confronting the unscrupulous mechanics that did such a terrible job on the valuable old car that is now in his care.

Fortunately, Mma Ramotswe is strong in the traditional Botswanan values of honesty, generosity, and kindness. That makes her a formidable ally for her friends and her clients…and a fearsome opponent for anyone who fails to meet her expectations about proper behavior and responsibility. Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and was a law professor at the University of Botswana before relocating to Scotland. His knowledge of and affection for the land and people of Africa comes through clearly in the rich descriptions and captivating characters that have made his No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series an international phenomenon. Sue Stone

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402586347
Publisher:
Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date:
04/07/2004
Series:
No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

A Great Sadness among the Cars of Botswana

Precious Ramotswe was sitting at her desk at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Gaborone. From where she sat she could gaze out of the window, out beyond the acacia trees, over the grass and the scrub bush, to the hills in their blue haze of heat. It was such a noble country, and so wide, stretching for mile upon mile to brown horizons at the very edge of Africa. It was late summer, and there had been good rains that year. This was important, as good rains meant productive fields, and productive fields meant large, ripened pumpkins of the sort that traditionally built ladies like Mma Ramotswe so enjoyed eating. The yellow flesh of a pumpkin or a squash, boiled and then softened with a lump of butter (if one's budget stretched to that), was one of God's greatest gifts to Botswana. And it tasted so good, too, with a slice of fine Botswana beef, dripping in gravy.

Oh yes, God had given a great deal to Botswana, as she had been told all those years ago at Sunday school in Mochudi. "Write a list of Botswana's heavenly blessings," the teacher had said. And the young Mma Ramotswe, chewing on the end of her indelible pencil, and feeling the sun bearing down on the tin roof of the Sunday school, heat so insistent that the tin creaked in protest against its restraining bolts, had written: (1) the land; (2) the people who live on the land; (3) the animals, and specially the fat cattle. She had stopped at that, but, after a pause, had added: (4) the railway line from Lobatse to Francistown. This list, once submitted for approval, had come back with a large blue tick after each item, andthe comment written in: Well done, Precious! You are a sensible girl. You have correctly shown why Botswana is a fortunate country.

And this was quite true. Mma Ramotswe was indeed a sensible person and Botswana was a fortunate country. When Botswana had become independent all those years ago, on that heart-stilling night when the fireworks failed to be lit on time, and when the dusty wind had seemed to augur only ill, there had been so little. There were only three secondary schools for the whole country, a few clinics, and a measly eight miles of tarred road. That was all. But was it? Surely there was a great deal more than that. There was a country so large that the land seemed to have no limits; there was a sky so wide and so free that the spirit could rise and soar and not feel in the least constrained; and there were the people, the quiet, patient people, who had survived in this land, and who loved it. Their tenacity was rewarded, because underneath the land there were the diamonds, and the cattle prospered, and brick by brick the people built a country of which anybody could be proud. That was what Botswana had, and that is why it was a fortunate country.

Mma Ramotswe had founded the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by selling the cattle left her by her father, Obed Ramotswe, a good man whom everybody respected. And for this reason she made sure that his picture was on the office wall, alongside, but slightly lower than, the picture of the late President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, paramount chief of the Bangwato, founding president of Botswana, and gentleman. The last of these attributes was perhaps the most important in Mma Ramotswe's eyes. A man could be a hereditary ruler, or an elected president, but not be a gentleman, and that would show in his every deed. But if you had a leader who was a gentleman, with all that this meant, then you were lucky indeed. And Botswana had been very lucky in that respect, because all three of her presidents had been good men, gentlemen, who were modest in their bearing, as a gentleman should be. One day, perhaps, a woman might become president, and Mma Ramotswe thought that this would be even better, provided, of course, that the lady in question had the right qualities of modesty and caution. Not all ladies had those qualities, Mma Ramotswe reflected; some of them being quite conspicuously lacking in that respect.

Take that woman who was always on the radio-a political woman who was always telling people what to do. She had an irritating voice, like that of a jackal, and a habit of flirting with men in a shameless way, provided that the men in question could do something to advance her career. If they could not, then they were ignored. Mma Ramotswe had seen this happening; she had seen her ignoring the Bishop at a public function, in order to talk to an important government minister who might put in a good word for her in the right place. It had been transparent. Bishop Theophilus had opened his mouth to say something about the rain and she had said, "Yes, Bishop, yes. Rain is very important." But even as she spoke, she was looking in the direction of the minister, and smiling at him. After a few minutes, she had slipped away, leaving the Bishop behind, and sidled up to the minister to whisper something to him. Mma Ramotswe, who had watched the whole thing, was in no doubt about what that something had been, for she knew women of this sort and there were many of them. So they would have to be careful before choosing a woman as president. It would have to be the right sort of woman; a woman who knew what hard work was and what it was like to bear half the world upon your shoulders.

On that day, sitting at her desk, Mma Ramotswe allowed her thoughts to wander. There was nothing in particular to do. There were no outstanding matters to investigate, as she had just completed a major enquiry on behalf of a large store that suspected, but could not prove, that one of its senior staff was embezzling money. Its accountants had looked at the books and had found discrepancies, but had been unable to find how and where the money had disappeared. In his frustration at the continuing losses, the managing director had called in Mma Ramotswe, who had compiled a list of all the senior staff and had decided to look into their circumstances. If money was disappearing, then there was every likelihood that somebody at the other end would be spending it. And this elementary conclusion-so obvious really-had led her straight to the culprit. It was not that he had advertised his ill-gotten wealth; Mma Ramotswe had been obliged to elicit this information by placing temptation before each suspect. At length, one had succumbed to the prospect of an expensive bargain and had been able to offer payment in cash-a sum beyond the means of a person in such a position. It was not the sort of investigation which she enjoyed, because it involved recrimination and shame, and Mma Ramotswe preferred to forgive, if at all possible. "I am a forgiving lady," she said, which was true. She did forgive, even to the extent of bearing no grudge against Note Mokoti, her cruel former husband, who had caused her such suffering during their brief, ill-starred marriage. She had forgiven Note, even though she did not see him any more, and she would tell him that he was forgiven if he came to her now. Why, she asked herself, why keep a wound open when forgiveness can close it?

Her unhappiness with Note had convinced her that she would never marry again. But then, on that extraordinary evening some time ago, when Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had proposed to her after he had spent all afternoon fixing the dispirited engine of her tiny white van, she had accepted him. And that was the right decision, for Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was not only the best mechanic in Botswana, but he was one of the kindest and most gracious of men. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni would do anything for one who needed help, and, in a world of increasing dishonesty, he still practised the old Botswana morality. He was a good man, which, when all is said and done, is the finest thing that you can say about any man. He was a good man.

It was strange at first to be an engaged lady; a status somewhere between spinsterhood and marriage; committed to another, but not yet another's spouse. Mma Ramotswe had imagined that they would marry within six months of the engagement, but that time had passed, and more, and still Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had said nothing about a wedding. Certainly he had bought her a ring and had spoken freely, and proudly, of her as his fiancée, but nothing had been said about the date of the wedding. She still kept her house in Zebra Drive, and he lived in his house in the Village, near the old Botswana Defence Force Club and the clinic, and not far from the old graveyard. Some people, of course, did not like to live too close to a graveyard, but modern people, like Mma Ramotswe, said that this was nonsense. Indeed, there were many differences of opinion here. The people who lived around Tlokweng, the Batlokwa, had a custom of burying their ancestors in a small, mud-walled round house, a rondavel, in the yard. This meant that those members of the family who died were always there with you, which was a good practice, thought Mma Ramotswe. If a mother died, then she might be buried under the hut of the children, so that her spirit could watch over them. That must have been comforting for children, thought Mma Ramotswe, to have the mother under the stamped cattle-dung floor.

There were many good things about the old ways, and it made Mma Ramotswe sad to think that some of these ways were dying out. Botswana had been a special country, and still was, but it had been more special in the days when everybody-or almost everybody-observed the old Botswana ways. The modern world was selfish, and full of cold and rude people. Botswana had never been like that, and Mma Ramotswe was determined that her small corner of Botswana, which was the house on Zebra Drive, and the office that the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors shared, would always remain part of the old Botswana, where people greeted one another politely and listened to what others had to say, and did not shout or think just of themselves. That would never happen in that little part of Botswana, ever.

That morning, sitting at her desk, a steaming mug of bush tea before her, Mma Ramotswe was alone with her thoughts. It was nine o'clock, which was well into the working morning (which started at seven-thirty), but Mma Makutsi, her assistant, had been instructed to go to the post office on her way to work and would not arrive for a little while yet. Mma Makutsi had been hired as a secretary, but had quickly proved her value and had been promoted to assistant detective. In addition to this, she was Assistant Manager of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, a role which she had taken on with conspicuous success when Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had been ill. Mma Ramotswe was lucky to have such an assistant; there were many lazy secretaries in Gaborone, who sat in the security of their jobs tapping at a keyboard from time to time or occasionally picking up the telephone. Most of these lazy secretaries answered the telephone in the same tone of voice, as if the cares of being a secretary were overwhelming and there was nothing that they could possibly do for the caller. Mma Makutsi was quite unlike these; indeed she answered the telephone rather too enthusiastically, and had sometimes scared callers away altogether. But this was a minor fault in one who brought with her the distinction of being the most accomplished graduate of her year from the Botswana Secretarial College, where she had scored ninety-seven per cent in the final examinations.

As Mma Ramotswe sat at her desk, she heard sounds of activity from the garage on the other side of the building. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was at work with his two apprentices, young men who seemed entirely obsessed with girls and who were always leaving grease marks about the building. Around each light switch, in spite of many exhortations and warnings, there was an area of black discolouration, where the apprentices had placed their dirty fingers. And Mma Ramotswe had even found greasy fingerprints on her telephone receiver and, more irritatingly still, on the door of the stationery cupboard.

"Mr J.L.B. Matekoni provides towels and all that lint for wiping off grease," she had said to the older apprentice. "They are always there in the washroom. When you have finished working on a car, wash your hands before you touch other things. What is so hard about that?"

"I always do that," said the apprentice. "It is not fair to talk to me like that, Mma. I am a very clean mechanic."

"Then is it you?" asked Mma Ramotswe, turning to the younger apprentice.

"I am very clean too, Mma," he said. "I am always washing my hands. Always. Always."

"Then it must be me," said Mma Ramotswe. "I must be the one with greasy hands. It must be me or Mma Makutsi. Maybe we get greasy from opening letters."

The older apprentice appeared to think about this for a moment. "Maybe," he said.

"There's very little point in trying to talk to them," Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had observed when Mma Ramotswe subsequently told him of this conversation. "There is something missing in their brains. Sometimes I think it is a large part, as big as a carburettor maybe."

Now Mma Ramotswe heard the sound of voices coming from the garage. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was saying something to the apprentices, and then there came a mumbling sound as one of the young men answered. Another voice; this time raised; it was Mr J.L.B. Matekoni.

Mma Ramotswe listened. They had done something again, and he was reprimanding them, which was unusual. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was a mild man, who did not like conflict, and always spoke politely. If he felt it necessary to raise his voice, then it must have been something very annoying indeed.

"Diesel fuel in an ordinary engine," he said, as he entered her office, wiping his hands on a large piece of lint. "Would you believe it, Mma Ramotswe? That . . . that silly boy, the younger one, put diesel fuel into the tank of a non-diesel vehicle. Now we have to drain everything out and try to clean the thing up."

Copyright© 2004 by Alexander McCall Smith

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The Full Cupboard of Life (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series #5) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
HOW DARE YOU SAY SUCH THINGS! According to you all men in this book are either simple, stupid or criminal. What about Mr. JLB Matekoni? And what of Obed Ramotswe? And what of the man who repents his crimes in the Kalahari Typing School for Men? Might I remind you that in Morality for Beautiful Girls 2 of the women copeteting in the beauty contest were self centered. The plot line? Part of why this series is so charming is the repetitiin of phrases such as " traditionally built" and " the tiny white van". The slow moving and consistent plot line. As a fellow writer, I can assure you that McCall Smith's writing style is lovely. Why don't you reread the books and consider these truths.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters in The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency capture me and the worries of our world disappear. The goodness of Mma Romatswe, Mr J.L.B.Matekoni, Mma Makutsi and others in Gaborone makes me wish for simpler times when people have time to care about and for others. I eagerly await each new volume.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was our book club's selection for the month of April 2006. Most of us had already read at least a couple of the books in this series, and we decided to read yet another. We chose the fifth book because most of us hadn't already read this one, and with the new installment just published some of us wanted to catch up. Plus, this series embodies what we, as a group, collectively like (fast, engaging reads that aren't burdened with psychosis, brutality, or evil). For anyone who isn't familiar with the series - and I can't imagine there are too many such people! - the books revolve around the life and low-key adventures of Mma Precious Ramotswe, owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana. Precious and her able assistant, Mma Grace Makutsi (she of the 97% passing grade and extremely large-lensed spectacles), take on a series of cases while Precious also deals with the various goings-on in her life, including her frustratingly long engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni, who seems unwilling to take the final plunge into the state of marital happiness. Six of our nine members simply adore these books, and THE FULL CUPBOARD OF LIFE was no exception. The other three find the books enjoyable but don't count them among their favorites. We found that all the elements that we so enjoy were equally present in this installment of the series. Smith is simply an elegant writer the simplicity of his prose rivals Hemingway's, but many of us actually expressed a preference for Smith's style. The repetition of key phrases like the 'tiny white van' add to the almost mythological element to the books. Most of all, as a group we tend to enjoy books that are very positive / life-affirming, as we feel that if we want to get depressed or spend time around perverted or evil beings, we can simply watch the evening news or read the newspaper. And you always feel good when you've turned the last page of a No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency book. A large part of our discussion centered around whether or not this book - and the others in the series - are a realistic or an idealized portrait of life in Botswana. In some ways, the books must surely be idealized, in that Mma Ramotswe is of the higher classes. She owns a comfortable home in a nice part of town, and was able to open the agency, as a result of the money her beloved father left her. So, what we see is really an upper-middle class woman's life in Botswana. While there are brief references to the challenges faced by the people, these are quite fleeting. For example, one of our members pointed out that the incidence of AIDS in Botswana is extremely high, one of the highest in the world - and yet there is no mention of this crisis. (Mma Makutsi's brother, who is living with AIDS, was featured in a previous book, but that theme was dropped.) We also felt that in Smith's world, the people tend to be drawn both subtly and in black and white. That sounds paradoxical, but it isn't. Smith does seem to divide his characters into two camps: basically quite good and moral, though perhaps suffering from an occasional peccadillo or quite bad, debauched, or dishonest. None of us feel that this a flaw in the book indeed, that sort of simplicity is what keeps us returning - the message of these books is always the same: It's better to choose to be a good human being than a bad one, and we all know the difference between good and bad. (The villains in these books are always willfully bad, which makes them all the more unsympathetic.) While the plots of the Smith books are never pulse-pounding or heart-racing, we felt the subplots in this installment were probably the weakest of the series so far. But this wasn't a problem, except for two of us, who like a little more suspense. (The majority of us felt that the subplot of Mr. Maketoni's parachute jump was very much a stretch, and required more suspension of disbelief that we are accustomed to from this series.)
NinaJon More than 1 year ago
I read this book (the fifth in a series) somewhat out of sequence, having already read later novels in the series. This meant I already knew the answer to the question posed by Mma Ramotswe at the beginning of the novel. This didn't spoil the enjoyment for me, in fact quite the contrary, as I was quite intrigued to know whether it would be answered in this instalment (and how). I wasn't disappointed. As with the others in the series, I thought the book a gentle, evocative read, with one case for our detective to get her teeth into, whilst allowing us, the readers, to share more of the lives of the characters created by Alexander McCall Smith.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my firstbok to read by Alexander McCall Smith and I am a fan. I appreciate being able to connect with the characters while reading this out of sequence. I love his writing style and voice. I cannot wait to read more.
shecab More than 1 year ago
I love the pace of the stories and have read most of the series. It takes one to a place where one has the time to appreciate the little things of life.
nookgirlJE More than 1 year ago
The first book in this series was given to me and now I must read them all! I love the characters and Alexander McCalls ability to describe a scene so I feel that I'm in Africa with them. I'll be sad half way through the last book, but for now I look forward to every minute.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the whole series.
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