Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Angel Tungaraza is a Tanzanian expat in Kigali, Rwanda. Her husband works as a special consultant at a local university and she has her own home-based business, baking individually designed western-style cakes. This helps make extra money for her large family, because after the death of both her children she cares for five grandchildren and their young minder.
As Angel designs the perfect cake for each customer and occasion she gets to know her customers and becomes sometimes part of their lives, and through their stories we get to know their world. Angel is true to her name compassionate, and exceptionally tolerant. She intervenes whenever she can giving people a push in what she figures is the right direction or helping them see things more clearly. Her good intention are rewarded most of the time.
There are many issues encountered in this book: The Rwandan genocide, AIDS, child soldiers, Gender equality, sexual orientation, poverty, African identity, female genital mutilation, and African wildlife (especially the endangered gorillas) among many others.
Angel is someone I would love to have as my best friend, because she has exceptional understanding and tolerance for all these themes. Although the book does not explain how a woman who has always lived on the continent and only went for visits to Germany, while her husband did postgraduate studies there, could arrive at such worldly tolerance and wisdom.
The book is fine for people who do not know anything about Africa, it brings it to them gently. It does not vilify Wazungu (White people) completely although it is funny to note that the only two asshole characters were a Canadian working for the International Monetary Fund and an American who the whole community knows to be working for the CIA. Other minor baddies/ eccentrics include an unbalanced former child soldier, the drunk manager of the building, and the Indians who are afraid of catching their death from germs; these characters all come across more comical than evil. All African characters are essentially good, even the prostitute is an honest working woman who looks after two sisters and an orphan.
If you are willing to suspend your disbelief for a few hours, and enjoy a story where small people try to make a difference and succeed, then you will enjoy this book. It is gentle and warm, does not have a complex plot, and reads like a series of stories with some direct sermonizing. But a skeptic like me would end up with a few exclamation marks (!) knocking about inside my head. For example, how on earth could an Italian-born man be such a strong proponent of “circumcising” his own daughter, while her Somali mother is not ?
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