If you have not read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, I strongly urge you to do so before reading Tears of the Giraffe. Otherwise, this beautiful novel will seem like a four star effort as you fail to appreciate and integrate the background of Precious Ramotswe into your thinking as it was described in the earlier book.
Tears of the Giraffe isn't so much a sequel as a continuation of the events in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. As that book ended, Mma Ramatswe accepted the proposal of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. In Tears of the Giraffe, the couple decides in which of their houses they will live, picks out a ring and decides about having children. Each event has its unexpected twists . . . including an attempt by Mr Matekoni's maid to derail the marriage.
There is less happening at the detective agency than in the prior story. This book involves solving only two mysteries, a wandering wife and a missing son. Mma Ramatswe learns that her able secretary wants to become a detective, and the savvy head of the agency tries out Mma Makutsi's talents with encouraging results.
Both story lines focus on questions of right and wrong. As a prospective spouse, what are the right reactions to one's fiancé or fiancée? As a detective, how much may one do wrong to avoid greater wrongs? To one's community, what is owed? To one's employees, what opportunities should be opened? In each case, the suggestion is that all responsibilities must be borne . . . and borne bravely . . . but in a way that is tempered with love for one's fellow people.
As with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Africa itself plays a role stronger than any single character in defining what is thought and done. The strong and distinct atmosphere makes the book more enchanting to those who do not know Africa.
The story is strengthened by alternating narrators among many different characters and using lots of dialogue so that each part of the novel is vivid and varied. It's as though six or seven almost unconnected short stories were woven together into a seamless novel. It's an impressive accomplishment.
As I finished the book, I wondered how much better off we all would be if we each took a strong responsibility for all those we meet and touch.