Best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith is the latest celebrity to partner with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which helps protect refugees and solve refugee conflict worldwide.
McCall Smith, best known for his “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, is one of 18 authors who contributed a story to a collection entitled, “What You Wish For: A Book for Darfur.” Proceeds from the collection, organized by the Book Wish Foundation, will be used to build libraries in camps inhabited by Darfur refugees.
McCall Smith’s contribution, “The Strange Story of Bobby Box,” is a tale to which many refugee children can relate. The story follows a boy whose life begins with abuse and deprivation, but who ultimately finds a home and success. The author notes that there are definite similarities between the character of Bobby and the children in the camps. “If you look at what refugee children have to put up with, yes there would be parallels. I think that someone in that position has their whole world turned upside down in many cases. Their education is interrupted and they have to cope with very, very difficult circumstances…I should imagine that books for many people in difficult circumstances provide an escape from the grim reality of their lives. But they also give people an opportunity to pursue their education, to remain in touch with the outside world. Books must be really important in those circumstances.”
Although McCall Smith grew up in Scotland, he was born in what is now Zimbabwe, and has made an effort to portray Africa in a positive light. His “Detective Agency” series is set in Botswana, and one of his goals for the books is to encourage readers to look beyond the disasters of the continent. He says, “I think it’s…important that people should realize that there’s another side to Africa, that there’s a very positive side to Africa and that’s the side which I portray in my Botswana books. I think that it’s a great pity if we see just the negatives.”