Reading about Botswana has been a pleasure. A mid-sized, landlocked, Southern African country, it has Kalahari dessert occupying 70% of its territory. One of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, it has one of the highest growing per-capita income and human development index. The country is resource rich but lacking in institutional structure. The economy is highly dependent on diamond mining. Both its unique culture, and language are referred to as Setswana. Sadly, the country has one of the highest reported cases of HIV/AIDS in the world and putting in place significant resources to deal with it.
While there is published literature available in Setswana, the writing in English mainly started with travel literature (Source: http://www.thuto.org/ubh/bw/bhp9.htm). Currently we have a large and unique body of literature in English from Botswana with many prominent literary figures. The most popular writer from Botswana is Bessie Head. Her ‘When Rain Cloud Gather‘ gives a succinct account of the life and culture of Botswana from an African refugee’s point of view. Another wildly popular series is Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency mysteries. Quirky and funny, the series is well known as books as well as TV shows.
For my reading, I have chosen ‘Murder for Profit‘ the second story in Laurie Kibuitsile’s Kate Gomolemo mysteries. A mystery similar to the ‘No.1 Ladies ..’ series for sure – the key differentiator being that the author lives and works in Botswana. It is a short read and I hope is as charming as the ‘No.1 ..’ series too.
‘Murder for Profit’ is everything I hoped the book would be – short, interesting right down to unputdownable towards the end, full of references to Botswana culture and way of life. Set in Mogobane, a small village within riding distance from the capital Gaborone, the story revolves around the grizzly murders of three children and their elderly grandmother. The murders look almost motiveless, the victims completely helpless in front of the greed of the people willing to commit such acts. The local police rules the murders as a fire accident. An anonymous note about the murders brings detective Kate Gomolemo back to the village. The detective has her own personal losses to deal with like the recent death of her husband and the separation from her only son, studying to be a doctor in United States. However her sense of justice and duty push her on and she manages to get to the root of the murders, even when she has to risk her life for it.
The thing that sets the novel apart and makes it a delightful read is the author’s emphasis on the ‘who’ of the murders rather than on the ‘why’. The intention is not to awe the reader with an unguessable mystery, but to give a sense of the havoc and destruction caused by misplaced beliefs and traditions.
I enjoyed reading about:
- The domestic system of compounds where the host is lured out by the sweet call of ‘koko‘ at the entrance
- The greetings of ‘Dumela ma‘ and ‘rre‘
- The references to traditional Batswana food like bogobe and mogodu
- Steoreotypical characters like the big loud lady listening to traditional music
- Traditional names of characters like:
Mmagosego, Monnonyana Dikgang, Mmatli Thela, Mosenene
- And finally the world-wide belief of infertility being a woman’s problem (a good write-up about fertility, confinement rituals after delivery etc. in Botswana here).
The book was certainly worth my time and I am pretty sure I will go back for more from Botswana.
Other Options from Botswana:
Love on the rocks – Andrew Sesinyi
Love story of an upper class girl and a poor boy set in Botswana
Novels of Botswana in English – Mary S. Lederer
Genesis and development of English novel in Botswana