This book made me homesick for East Africa, having lived there myself for many years! Very much in the style of Alexander McCall Smith’s “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective” series, Parkin creates a story full of African wisdom and nuance. The story is set in modern Rwanda, so in the course of the story, many truly African issues and problems arise. Wounds from the genocide are still fresh, but people are trying to overcome and focus on hope and healing, They will find a way to celebrate once again, despite many obstacles.
Angel Tungaraza, a Tanzanian living in Rwanda, bakes cakes for all occasions. She decorates them very creatively and her business is beginning to thrive, even in a place where there are still haunting memories of tragedies and other problems like HIV AIDS, child soldiers, and poverty. Angel says, “My cake business is doing well because there are almost no shops here that sell cakes. A cake business doesn’t do well in a place where people have nothing to celebrate.” But her business does begin to thrive and her business allows her to become involved in the lives of others, sometimes with surprising results. Her customers receive much more from Angel than a beautiful cake! She also portrays well the sometimes tricky relationship between Foreign Aid workers (wazungu) and locals in such a place as Tanzania or Rwanda. Angel says, “All wazungu are rich. They get an extra $100 a day to compensate for living in a dangerous country, while most Rwandans do not earn that in a month!” The author was born in Africa and knows it well. She herself has lived in Rwanda and has worked with survivors there. Many of the stories she tells were inspired by stories she was told by women she counselled. She does a marvellous job of capturing the African spirit.
This is her first novel and I do hope she writes more. ‘Baking Cakes in Kigali’ deals with heavy issues in an uplifting manner, creating a deliciously funny, moving, and charming (but not sugar-coated) story, showing the strength and tenacity of the human spirit.