Baking Cakes in Kigali is the first novel by African author Gaile Parkin, and what a treat it is. The book’s main character is Angel, a cake maker in the capital city of Rwanda, who lives with her husband, grandchildren and nanny in a two bedroom apartment. Having lost her own children Angel has taken on the responsibility of raising her grandchildren and to earn extra money for the family bakes special occasion cakes. There are many different characters introduced throughout as each come to order a cake for an occasion. Some cakes even make her question her own morals and values before deciding to make it. Through her business she meets many people and tries to connect those who may benefit from one another. These benefits range from business arrangements to employment to even love. Yet Angel has a mysterious heartbreaking truth of her own that needs to be discovered and when she does Parkin makes you feel as if you were there experiencing it with her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for many reasons. It gives you a look into African culture and the differences between natives and white people. Wazungu – white people are referred to throughout the book as such and depicts how differently each races lives their lives. It compares the culture of Rwanda to that of South Africa, America, and Europe, all which are considered ‘modern.’ The concept of a man having a boyfriend is not particularly understood nor is the revealing clothing of some of the women. The topics of genocide, genital mutilation, and AIDs are all present in this book and Parkin shows you how these horrific experiences affect the way people live their life. Now don’t think this whole story is dreary as it isn’t. There is subtle light humor that makes you chuckle and you develop a sense of pride for Angel and all that she accomplishes throughout the story. You develop a sense of their day to day life through the clothes they wear, the food ranging from simple rice dishes to boiled grasshoppers, the braiding of hair, etc…
This book has opened my mind to African culture and I see it in a completely different light. It made me want to research the area more and get a better understanding of the life in Rwanda. My hope is that Parkin writes more novels about her native country because I would definitely add them to my reading list.
Next Book: Three Junes by Julia Glass