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Book and TV Review: Tears of the Giraffe

Updated on July 16, 2015

Watching the news broadcasts of about the making of the HBO television series set in Botswana and South Africa, it was stunning to see giraffe walking by the side of the streets and highways. Then, a group of elephants walked by. Eye popping!

A Mystery Series in Southern Africa

This mystery novel is the second installment of the series by renowned author Alexander McCall Smith. This first offering of a popular series is named The No. 1 Ladie's Detective Agency.

As a televised series, the books became a BBC most-watched series starring Jill Scott in the role of Detective Precious Ramotswe.

Located at the end of this article is video of Ms. Scott and her company as she works in Botswana on this production.

In the desert, all people and animals give what they can to others, even if all they have to give is their tears.

— A local legend

The Traditional Ways

Camelthorn Tree and "social weaver" bird at the Kalahari. Nests are communal & large.
Camelthorn Tree and "social weaver" bird at the Kalahari. Nests are communal & large.

The Thorn Tree

The camelthorn tree is an acacia tree endemic to the Kalahari region. It is practically the only tree that has adapted to the Kalahari environment and is thus a key component of the ecosystem.

The camelthorn tree provides nutrients for other plants and shrubs, which grow more densely around the trees, while their leaves provide food for animals. The shade of the tree also serves as a refuge for animals during the day and the social weavers build their nests in its branches.

The Traditional Ways

McCall Smith's series about lady detectives and good mechanics in Botawana is a call to hearken back to the traditional Africa before European colonization, This Old Africa was filled with respect and compassion between and among family members, extended family, children and adults, business people and other elements of society. Manner and etiquette showed respect and their users knew that they showed respect.

There is much writing in the Ladie's Detective Agency books about youth being unaware of the consequences of their everyday behaviors and lack of ambition. There is a concern that a sense of entitlement in the 1970s - 1980s will create a declining world in Africa as these youth age. Jobs will be lost and families are likely to become fragmented.

This is not going to become the case with Precious Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni. Although he did so without first consulting his finance, Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni adopted two children. They are an orphan brother and sister, the sister being older and wheelchair bound, but joyful nonetheless.

The orphans are children whose bush tribe mother died soon after the birth of the baby boy. Out of necessity of lack of food, the tribal custom was to bury the baby with the late mother. His sister, 8 years old at the time and still able to walk, waited until everyone was gone and dug up her brother from the shallow grave to care for him. In and out of hospital, the children landed on a find orphan's farm in Botswana near Mr. J.B.L. Maketoni's Tlowkeng Road Speedy Motors (fast service) garage. His free time being taken up with volunteer work on the orphan farm, he could not say no to them once he saw them and the young girl brought him water.

These children will grow up under the garage owner's care with modern skills, but also with traditional respect, manners, reverence for life, ambition. and compassion -- If Detective Mma Precious Ramotswe is happy after she finds out about them. She will become their new mother, after all.

Modern Botawana

Star Jill Scott in Botswana

Botswana Music

Hire a Housekeeper

The citizens of Gaborone, Botswana in this story have been encouraged to hire maids or housekeepers wherever possibly in order to provide employment for additional people in the community. Because of this, many people have a housekeeper that performs light cleaning and meal preparation, Many of these individuals do a very good job and are conscientious in their work.

Mr. J.B.L. Maketoni, the finance of Detective Ramotswe, has hired a housekeeper that has been with siome over a decade. However, she does not make a very good job of her duties. The house is dusty, full of cobwebs, and looking like no one cares for it. In addition, this domestic help entertains friends of the male persuasion in the house during the days when Mr. J.B.L. Maketoni is hard at work at Tlowkeng Speedy Motors.

When the heroic garage owner brings his fiancé to his house to have a look around and meet the housekeeper, there is somewhat of a negative scene. The housekeeper decides to pretend good manners to Precious Ramotswe and later, even to the two orpans from the orphan farm that come to stay in the house - until she can plot well enough to get rid of them all. However, she goes too far when she asks one of her boyfriends for an illegal gun and is required to spend time in a jail cell. It is hard to find good help.


Tears of the Giraffe Basket Weave Pattern

  • An old legend says this:

In the desert, all people and animals give what they can to others, even if all they have to give is their tears.

  • A traditional basket woven in Botswana incorporates the tears from the giraffe of the desert into the pattern of the weave as a reminder and a tribute. Many of the local basketry is patterned after areas of animals bodies, such as the Zebra's Forehead and many others.

Tears of the giraffe are depicted by parallel lines and dots signifying women following men on a hunt.

— Art and Craft of Botswana, by Sudha Satyawadi

Lost in the Kalahari Desert

Tears of the Giraffe is a sequel to the HBO episode No. 1 Ladie's Detective Agency. In this second installment, Mma Precious Ramotswe promotes her dedicated secretary, Grace Makutsi (played by Anika Noni Rose on HBO) to assistant private detective, to include detecting with her former secretarial duties.

Assistant Detective Mma Makutsi is even blessed with her own case to solve this time around. In her mid-twenties, she enlists the wonderfully funny aid of her older uncle, who plays the part of a PI very well, taking notes all of the time.

Mma Grace Makutsi gathers enough information for her client, but does not know how to present it in the best way, so she must consult with Mma Ramotswe, who is 10-12 years older, one whom Grace feels is much wiser.

Out of many scenarios, they choose one that helps all parties in the case, especially the client's young son, who has been able to to attend a private school thanks to the secret charity of one of the other parties. It is a good solution.

Not all of the ladies' cases are so easily solved. An American woman lost her college-aged son some twenty years ago in the Kalahari when he went to live in an experimental commune. He was trying to help raise vegetables for the children of Botswana there on the edge of the Kalahari, but disappeared.

His mother needs answers about his disappearance. Mma Ramotswe agrees to help, realizing that this will be a time consuming undertaking. Many miles and interviews later with the agency's tiny white van, Mma Ramotswe is able to provide some information at last.

Not all cases end as happily as they might, but sometimes an unexpected child appears to create a new beginning. It is a good ending.

Heart of the Desert

Tears of the Giraffe (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Book 2)
Tears of the Giraffe (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Book 2)

In the desert, sometimes all one has to give is one's tears.

In the Kalahari Desert.
In the Kalahari Desert. | Source


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    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 

      7 years ago

      I found you because I just posted a "why" story about giraffes and long necks. I LOVE the #1 Detective Agency series. I've read them all! I did not, however, like the TV show.

    • PaperNotes profile image


      8 years ago

      I must have time to look for a copy of this. It seems quite interesting to read. Thanks.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I saw Meerkat Manor a few times; it was informative. McCall Smith seems to capture the heart of Botswana and his books are an anchor in a chaotic world.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      8 years ago from USA

      Hi Patty - That article was certainly intriguing and lots of fun to read. I have seen TV stuff about the Kalahari, and it was most interesting. However, the information about the tears of the giraffe and the legend that made it into the weave of the basket spoke to the ways of the Botswanians - nice stuff !

      Gus :-)))

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      This set of books is particularly uplifting in the methods in which the ladies and their gentlemen friends solve a number of common and uncommon mysteries. McCall Smith's 3-book series beginning with "Irregular Portuguese Verbs" gives another kid of humorous uplift. "The Finer POints of Sausage Dogs" is hilarious and the third, "At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances " is excellent as well. McCall Smith is a one-of-a-kind Scotsman and an unmatched author.

      Perhaps the TV series on the ladies will be picked up for another season.

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      8 years ago from Texas

      What a lot of great resources! I just wrote an overview of my pick in "number one ladies' detective stories" but I always hesitate to go into detail about books. I am afraid I'll give too much away. I like to just give an idea of the "flavor" of the books. Very nice use of videos and other supports! And I just love these books! :)

    • withlovearun profile image


      9 years ago from Chennai/TamilNadu

      thanks for the hub Patty Inghish,MS..... Nice information well presented... You attract quite a lot people through your writings


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