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Baking Cakes in Kigali

by Gaile Parkin


Angel Tungaraza is the eminent baker in Kigali; if you want a good-looking cake, no one else will do. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary or wedding Angel will decorate a cake to any theme. With a smile and sympathetic ear, she coaxes the life stories out of her clients with promises that she is a ‘professional somebody’ who will keep their words confidential.  Always filled with good intentions, Angel becomes the figure around which her community revolves, acting as confidante, matchmaker and miracle worker as her cakes and sunny attitude work to heal a community torn to shreds by war and disease.


Angel’s well-named, since she acts as the guardian angel of her entire community. When she suspects unhappiness in the wife of a CIA agent, she suggests the woman start teaching her illiterate neighbors to read and write to fill up her days.   When a prostitute living in Angel’s complex is cheated of her rightful wages, Angel tricks the man into giving her the money so that she can pass it on to the one who earned it. She is always dispensing advice in a grandmotherly way. But Angel has her own problems, too. Both of her children are dead – her son carried off by AIDS and her daughter’s death under mysterious circumstances – so she must raise her grandchildren. The relationship with her husband is strained by the grief they feel at the loss of their children. Although Angel has the wisdom to help everyone else, she is unable to sort out her own life’s dark secrets.


Most of the people in her book are immigrants. She lives amongst CIA agents, UN officials, university professors and refugees from other nations. Everyone’s a little bit broken, like the country itself, but they embrace life and share their mixed cultures with each other.


The book did get off to a bit of a slow start. I remember thinking as I read the first chapter, “Yikes. This is going to be a looooooong book.” Luckily, the story picks up the pace after a few chapters¸ and from there it was a smooth journey through the warren-like rooms of Angel’s apartment complex. In fact, towards the end of the book things got a downright hectic as the many characters began to converge and their separate narratives began to intermingle. It even got confusing as so many individuals had been introduced that I had trouble remembering who was who. 


I don’t know much about the modern states of Africa. Heck, I don’t know that much about historic Africa. But what little I have read always seems tragic and horrible, like Achebe’s Things Fall Apart*. It was really refreshing to see a novel that, while acknowledging the tragedy and horror of Rwanda’s past also showed that people are strong, and their passion for life undiminished in spite of many hardships.


* Man, if you ever want to read a downer of a book, Things Fall Apart is the way to go.


To read more about Baking Cakes in Kigali, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 30th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)
I really want to read this one - thanks for the review!
Oct. 3rd, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)
I just read Things Fall Apart not too long ago and I have to agree with you on it being downer.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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