Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Angel Tungaraza is from Tanzania, but she is living in Kigali Rwanda while her husband is teaching at a local university. They live with their five grandchildren in a compound that houses other expats working in Rwanda. Angel has started a cake making business. People come to her to order a cake for the happy moments in their lives and they confide their secrets to her.
There is not an overall plot to the book. People come to order a cake and we hear about their lives in post-genocide Rwanda. Some are survivors of the massacre. Others have family members in prison for participating in it. Some have come to help with the international reconstruction efforts (and to earn extra money for living in a “dangerous” area which confuses Angel who feels perfectly safe.)
This format allows discussion of the role of AIDS in central African society. Do you talk about it? If so, how? Do you acknowledge when people are sick and tell the truth about what they have?
How do you encourage women, expat and native Rwandan, to make more of their lives especially when there is so much misogyny? One of the first encounters is for a cake for a baby’s birth. They wanted a boy but this daughter is cute so they named her Goodenough.
The compound security guard has impregnated two women. One has already given birth to a boy and the other is due soon. He’s waiting to see who he will marry. If the other child is a girl he’ll marry the woman who gave him a boy.
On the surface the encounters about baking a cake seem like a light story but each of the people reveal more about life after tragedy.
The author is a white woman who was born and raised in Zambia. Many reviews of these books make an issue of that. “She was born in Africa but she’s not African,” is an actual quote which I think shows more lack of cultural understanding than what they are complaining about.
There is a sequel to this book which is told from the point of view of one of the grandchildren. I’ve put that on my TBR list.