Book Review: Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

This is an interesting little book and might be off the beaten track of what you’ve been reading this winter.

For me, it had a sssssslightly slow start and I think it was because I was trying to analyze the writing style.   It was a little bit hesitant and careful.  I googled the author and found that she had been raised and educated in Africa and I think that accounted for the unusual slant.  I soon became used to it, and then enjoyed it–a clean, polished clarity to each word.

The book takes place in Kigali, Rwanda.  Angel Tungaraza is the owner of a small business, making cakes for people in her village.  During the business transactions, she often finds herself the recipient of family tales and histories.  As is so often the case, people are more willing to tell personal things about themselves to strangers before they would dream of telling someone they know.

Angel is a simple woman, but a wise woman, and often it turns out that she helps solve unsolvable problems.

Angel’s own life has not been easy.  Both her children are “late” and she and her husband are raising five grandchildren.  Rwanda’s recent history plays a part, too, and there are heartbreaking lines:

“They killed me, Angel, but I did not die. ” (Odile)

Kigali (kee-golly) is a village fixed in the time and traditions of the past, but the women in the village are making inroads to modernity.  Angel speaks to the “Girls Who Mean Business” about her own business, and encourages the young girls to aspire to become independent, too.

There are multicultural and multilingual threads running through the chapters, adding to the interest.  Angel chastises those who consider themselves “bilingual” (French and English) when they also know Swahili and Kinyarwanda—telling them they are actually “multilingual”.

There are flashes of humor, and a definite trend toward hope in this book.

If you enjoyed The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, you will probably enjoy this book, too.

Baking Cakes in Kigali was published in 2009 and was selected by Random House Reading Circle books.  There was a reading guide in the back of my paperback edition.

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