- Virginia Johnson
In a country that is trying to piece itself back together after a terrible civil war, baking cakes might not seem to be such an important thing to do. But these are not just any cakes, and Angel Tungaraza is not just any baker. Her cakes are meant for joy and celebration. Angel’s kitchen is a place where secrets are shared and hearts often reconciled in Gaile Parkin’s novel, Baking Cakes in Kigali.
As the story opens, Angel is consulting with a very important customer:
In the same way that a bucket of water reduces a cooking fire to ashes—a few splutters of shocked disbelief, a hiss of anger, and then a chill all the more penetrating for having so abruptly supplanted intense heat—in just that way, the photograph that she now surveyed extinguished all her excitement.
"Exactly like this?" she asked her guest, trying to keep any hint of regret or condemnation out of her voice.
"Exactly like that," came the reply, and the damp chill of disappointment seeped into her heart.
The Zambian ambassador’s wife is ordering an anniversary cake. It is to be identical to the one from her wedding day. Absolutely white. White decorations on a white cake in the fashion of the Wazungu, or White People. Of course, Angel can do it. She can do anything with flour and sugar. But she does not want to. Cakes are for joyous times, and of all the colors and creativity she could use, none will be allowed. It is a difficult thing.
But Angel is often asked to do far more difficult things. When her grown children died, she and her husband took over the raising of five young children. Their apartment complex in Kigali is a central point for people who have come to help rebuild Rwanda, as well as those who have fled here in the aftermath of fighting. And then there is the scourge of AIDS, which is spoken of only in whispers. When Angel opens her home to her customers, she becomes involved in their lives and is sometimes able to help them.
Baking Cakes in Kigali is a novel bursting with characters whose perspectives help sketch the political and social history of Rwanda in a down-to-earth way.
Gaile Parkin was born and raised in Zambia. She has lived and worked as a volunteer in many parts of Africa. Some of the stories were inspired by real events that were recounted to her by survivors of those terrible times.