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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspective on modern day Rwanda
I picked up this book anticipating it would be the story of a tribal cakebaker and was pleasantly surprised to find it was set in modern day Rwanda, in a culture dealing with the restoration of the mess left behind by the horrors of genocide and struggling with the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. It is the story of a professor's wife in an apartment complex; a woman who...
Published on August 12, 2009 by Jean Marrapodi

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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow-paced, didn't hold my interest
Sigh...I hate to give lukewarm reviews but feel obligated to be honest: based on this novel, I'm not eager to read anything else by the author nor any sequels to this book. The other reviewers did a fine job of giving a general synopsis: the story centers on a cake-baking woman in Rwanda, living among the ex-pat community of the various foreign aid associations. The...
Published on August 9, 2009 by Stacia R. Roesler


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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspective on modern day Rwanda, August 12, 2009
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Jean Marrapodi "Jean Marrapodi" (Providence, RI United States) - See all my reviews
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I picked up this book anticipating it would be the story of a tribal cakebaker and was pleasantly surprised to find it was set in modern day Rwanda, in a culture dealing with the restoration of the mess left behind by the horrors of genocide and struggling with the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. It is the story of a professor's wife in an apartment complex; a woman who is wise and compassionate, who hears stories and teaches lessons gained in her 50 years of living in an educated culture. She interacts with a variety of people: diplomats, prostitutes, single mothers, soldiers, neighbors; all needing cakes as their common thread, but all arriving at her doorstep with a different story. Many of their personal lives have been impacted by the war and it is shocking to realize what kinds of things people did to survive. Sure it touches on the typical womens issues: rape, abuse, prostitution, single parenting, even cutting. We don't think about the individual aspects and the personal stories of war and AIDS until they touch us personally. She too, has felt the impact as she is raising her children's children, as all were victims, and we watch her come to grips with that. She is a very real character, a great role model for older women in an enjoyable book.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Left Me Hungry for More, September 16, 2009
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I was once a devoted follower of THE NO.1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY series. I enjoyed the lighthearted mystery and the chance to catch a glimpse of a different culture through the eyes of endearing characters, but I have not picked up the last two books because I have found them a bit repetitive and formulaic. "Baking Cakes in Kigali" in some ways felt like the beloved McCall Smith series, but with fresh faces and deeper stories. Angel Tungararza, a cake maker from Tanzania, moves with her husband and grandchildren to Rwanda, and the story is driven by the people who come into her life to order cakes. We hear their stories and how their lives become woven together through shared experiences and acquaintances. The scars of atrocities in Rawanda's past are acutely felt in this novel - Parkin fictionalizes the stories she heard while working there. She manages to discuss very serious topics such as genocide, HIV/AIDS (here simply called "the virus"), and female genital mutilation, but does so with respect and care.

Part of what I enjoyed so much about this book, apart from the wonderful characters that populate its pages, was that Parkin manages to address these potentially depressing, horrifying subjects while maintaining a tone of hope and renewal. This was a relatively quick read for me and I looked forward to picking it up every night. I was a little sad to say goodbye to these characters because I truly cared about their futures and found myself hoping that they would be alright after I turned the final page and placed the book on the shelf. This book has mass appeal and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency."
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet and touching, July 16, 2009
Tanzanian native Angel Tungaraza is one busy lady. She is still adjusting to life in Rwanda after having moved there a year before due to her husband's job. She is also busy raising her five orphaned grandchildren, and runs her own cake-making business. Not only does she bake and decorate amazing cakes, but she gives out advice to her customers as well.

This is a cute, sweet, and touching book. I would classify it as a "gentle" read, although it does briefly touch on the violence that happened during the 1994 genocide (the book is set in 2000). It was interesting to see a perspective of Rwanda several years after the genocide; the few books I've read set in Rwanda were either about the genocide or set before it. And it was sad to see how HIV/AIDS had affected so many of the characters' lives. Despite these bleak topics, the book has an uplifting feel to it as the main character tries her best to better the lives of her neighbors, family, and friends.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Baking Cakes in Kigali, November 27, 2009
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I only bought this book because I've been sponsoring a boy in Rwanda for some years. Most of what I hear about Rwanda relates to the genocide, but I am curious to learn more about what might be happening in that extraordinary part of the world. In describing the fictional lives of people who currently live in Kigali, as motley a crowd as one might expect in any capital city these days, Gaile Parkin, through the voice and perceptions of Angel, presents a tapestry of the socio-cultural issues that I feel plausibly exists there these days.

Ascribing excellent cake-making skills to Angel gives Parkin the requisite entree to people of all social strata in her community, and to raise a large number of issues that are problematic in many areas of the world, including the Western part, where I live - all of which invoke not only of Rwanda's horrific recent history but also deal with the matter of inclusion/exclusion that caused the genocide there and continues to fuel suspicion, fear, hostility, and violence all over the world.

Parkin touches tellingly on a large number and wide range of troubling and contentious social issues that exist just as much in Western industrialized countries as they do in the Kigali environment that forms the locus of her novel, such as the introduction of Muslim religious views and cultural practices, homosexuality, prostitution, infidelity, female circumcision, AIDS, and much more as just what being part of the human variety entails among her wide circle of friends and acquaintances in a newly formed multi-cultural, urban environment. Beyond that, Parkin invokes an African perspective on historical events that underlie what probably endures as at least antipathy toward the foreigners ("Wazunga"), who overran and broke up the African continent with no consideration for the inhabitants, as well as nationalistic and feminist sensibilities.

Each issue, whether having micro- or macro-societal implications, is deftly handled by the protagonist, Angel, in a no-nonsense and non-dogmatic way. The novel's vision - the possibility of a harmonious future that underlies every one of Angel's actions and considerations - is the leitmotif that runs through all of the cakes that she bakes for various celebrations: the basket-weave icing and unity elements that encompass so many of them. It is above all Angel's openness to people of all kinds, many of whom are very different from herself and in spite of her uncertaintainty at times. Her compassion and respect for the dignity of individuas as well as her commitment to furthering societal harmony carry the day every time.

I think probably every community on Earth has its own Angel - that genuinely kind and thoughtful somebody who works quietly behind the scenes while louder voices shout to have their views imposed on their countrymen and the world.

The funny part about this book is that this is so simple that a child could learn from and appreciate it. It would be a fine book to include in the high-school curriculum.

Brava, Parkin! I think Angel (or you) would be excellent somebodies on Rwanda's Unity and Reconciliation Committee. If I knew how to contact President Kagame, I would tell him so. I hope that this message reaches you one way or another so that you hear how much I appreciate what you have written. It gives me renewed hope for the future of the boy and his family who I very much care about, who are currently ekeing out a subsistence existence in Rwanda.

Nicola

November 27, 2009 11:34 PM
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching Lives in a Very Sweet Way ..., September 30, 2009
Gaile Parkin writes about the triumphs and tragedies of living in modern day Africa, specifically in the country of Rwanda . The book gradually reveals the life story of Angel Tungarza a lady who maintains a cheerful demeanor and open understanding heart despite the difficult challenges she has faced and overcome. It is about courage, faith, creativity, and about choices. Angel Tungaraza helps provide an extra income to her family by baking cakes. Angel is a baking artist. She is a creative genius who decorates cakes for special occasions. Each cake has her unique personal touch and is individually designed for the person and event. Angel is married to a university professor. They had two adult children, a son and daughter, both of whom were college educated. Both died as young adults leaving behind a total of five grandchildren to raise. Her son died of AIDS and her daughter died of an unknown illness related to severe headaches. Angel acts as a beacon of good will in the neighborhood. Through her baking business she develops many contacts and friendships. Her advice and help is often sought out. She provides an ear to those who need someone to listen and gives advice when the situation calls for it. She is a rare example of a successful female entrepreneur in a part of the world where this seldom happens. Yet, there is a sad truth from which she is hiding, something she has not admitted, faced or even discussed with her husband. Eventually, Angel is able to deal with a repressed, hidden secret that gnaws at her heart and makes peace with a very difficult event in her life. This book is most highly recommended.

The author writes about human experiences and strong emotions which leave a deep impact on the reader but she does it in a gentle and compassionate manner through describing the life of Angel Tungaraza and the many lives she touches. Although Angel has buried a secret, she continually faces what she has repressed and eventually her personal strength and committment allows her to accept the truth. This reader was awed by the author's sensitivity and subtle approach to serious matters which impact the lives of many Africans today. She has brought to light the difficult and painful issues that they face and how it affects families, friends and neighbors. The reader is guided through a maze of complex political situations over which the average African citizen has no control and also is shown how personal choices made by individuals can make or break a life. Gaile Parkin shows how one individual can make a difference in the lives of the many people with whom she interacts and how every life is precious. This is an outstanding and amazing book. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, heartwarming tale of reconciliation through baking, July 27, 2009
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In Gaile Parkin's sparkling debut "Baking Cakes in Kigali," baker Angel Tungaraza serves as a sort of fairy godmother in the lives of those around her. Angel, mother of two and grandmother of five, is going through menopause ("the Change") as she holds down a successful business as a cake baker. She has an impressive photo book full of her unique creations that seek to express a person's personality through layers of frosting.

Originally from Tanzania but living in Rwanda, Angel sees firsthand the devastating effect of civil war and its aftermath and of the high toll of AIDS ("the Disease"). Angel is left to raise her five young grandchildren at a time when she had planned on being retired. Fluent in Swahili and English (full of her "what-what-whats") and with a bit of French and Kinyarwanda tossed in, she manages to fit in to Kigali's multilingual society that's awash in Westerners from aid organizations, the IMF, and the UN. Angel's pricing is subject to how much money the cake buyer can afford to part with; for the wealthy Americans, she charges much more than for the poorest of the poor.

Angel seeks to better the lives of those around her by playing matchmaker, adoptive mother, and confidant. She reaches out to street children and survivors of Rwanda's genocide by sharing food, lots of sweet, spicy tea, and by lending an ear. She plays an important role in the lives of local women struggling to recover from rape, AIDS, and the horrors of war by supporting their education and projects. As a narrator, she's witty and nonjudgmental in the right places, yet her own discomfort with the past clouds her memories of her daughter Vinas until a fellow client helps her to open up. Angel's hilarious observations on the ways of the crazy Wazungu ("white people") are a refreshing take on modern Africa stripped of Western sentimentalities and stereotypes. Parkin's Rwanda is one of brightly patterned fabrics, the smells of cassava, peanut sauce and ugali, Fanta citron, and the hot, sweet, milky tea that permeates every womanly heart-to-heart.

Kigali is portrayed as a modern city with its share of hardships, including water and electricity shortages. Rwanda is a country that still bears the scars of its long and brutal civil war. However, there's a spirit (and recurring theme) of reconciliation that runs throughout several of the stories, and religious tolerance between Christians and their Muslim neighbors and friends (at a Christian wedding, the guests wait to eat until after sundown for the sake of those observing Ramadan). Overall, "Baking Cakes in Kigali" is an inspiring look at the power of reconciliation, self-belief, and making the world a better place one cake at a time.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow-paced, didn't hold my interest, August 9, 2009
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Sigh...I hate to give lukewarm reviews but feel obligated to be honest: based on this novel, I'm not eager to read anything else by the author nor any sequels to this book. The other reviewers did a fine job of giving a general synopsis: the story centers on a cake-baking woman in Rwanda, living among the ex-pat community of the various foreign aid associations. The things that are discussed---AIDS, genocide, homelessness, alcoholism, mistreatment of women in general (through infidelity, prostitution, and any other number of degradations)---these I found very interesting. Much of the scene-setting is slow and somewhat boring. I wish this had been trimmed so that there was less set-up of the scene (an apparent contrivance in order to work in the "heavier" issues) and a little more fleshing out of Angel's character. (I agree with the reviewer who said these are really vignettes that could nearly as well been told in short-story format, although some of the chapters do have interconnections.) Much of her wisdom is very worth reading, but I almost completely lost interest and bailed out by chapter 3. I had to force myself to keep reading to the end, and wound up just skimming the last 2 chapters. Even the cake-baking started seeming like a contrivance to get Angel into the situations that would beome educational to the reader. It was also completely unbelievable that people who hardly knew her would pour out their hearts as they did. I was intrigued by comparisons of this to "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" but this book simply was too slow-paced, and I didn't find the writing style to be especially compelling.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I just can't enjoy it . . ., September 23, 2010
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kim*designer (Pittsburgh, PA area) - See all my reviews
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Despite other positive comments, I can't get into this novel. I have tried to twice. It seems to move at a snail's pace. The characters seem to be self-consciously characterized rather than round and dynamic. The African cultural elements feel gratuitous. Sorry I can't rate it higher, because I expected to love it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An eloquent look at post-war Rwanda, December 10, 2009
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Angel Tungaraza, the major character in Baking Cakes in Kigali, may remind many readers of that other famous African heroine, Precious Ramotse of the popular #1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Both are modern African women who bear both a great deal of family responsibility as well as the desire to use their skills to earn money and distinguish themselves in a quickly-changing society. Both great observers of behavior, they are conscientious and pragmatic, showing a deep connection to the spiritual animism of most African cultures.

Unlike Ramotse's peaceful Botswana, though, Angel, a native of Tanzania, lives in Rwanda, beginning to recover from its horrific civil war of the 1990s. Hovering in the background as well is the AIDS epidemic swftly taking lioves across the continent. She, her husband, an education specialist, and five grandchildren - their parents dead from various causes - live in an apartment complex reserved for workers from government and aid agencies who have finally arrived to help Rwanda get back on its feet. By the standards of most Rwandans, they live in luxury and their compound is carefully guarded from intrusion by the very people they are here to help.

Angel bakes cakes, a somewhat rare item and her skills are highly praised and well-known. The basic narrative framework is that individuals come to Angel to place their orders and in the process tell their stories about how they have come to Rwanda - or survive within the country. One day she meets with the wife of an ambassador, on another she is asked to make a cake for a party in honor of a young girl's circumcision - the variety is considerable and expectations are often very mixed.

While the author is careful to let the reader draw his or her own conclusions, it's clear that the aid workers are often devoted to their own comfort as much as those they have come to help, and the Rwandans have a long time to go to heal from the wounds, both physical and emotional of their war.

After a slow start, I soon found the book engrossing, although I'll admit to a great interest in the subject matter (even cake-baking!). Partin may have been helped by a light edit to streamline her book, but I liked the old-fashioned quality of the interwoven stories and the well-drawn characters. She is also adept in creating a distinctive style of language for the native speakers, one which shows reverence for manners and form.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars simple, warm and grasping debut, September 15, 2009
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"Baking Cakes in Kigali" focuses on the lives of the inhabitants of a compound for expatriates in Kigali, Rwanda, and their neighbors. The central character, Angel Tungaraza, is a woman around fifty. She moved to Kigali from Tanzania to accompany her husband, Pius, who works at the university. Angel and Pius are taking care of their five grandchildren, whose parents are dead. Angel supports the family income with her hobby: baking decorative cakes for festive occasions. Her second hobby, the social relations between people, is easy to pursue when there are so many people around who want to order cakes, so Angel has a lot of opportunity for her society observations. She also loves manipulating people a bit in a kind way, so that their lives become better...

All of Angel's friends, neighbors and customers have stories, which serve as excuses to present African (especially Rwandan, but not only) history and current most pressing problems (wars, post- war recovery, schooling, AIDS). There is also the other side of Africa, the extraordinary beauty of its nature, kindness and instinctive stoicism of its people.

While I was reading this novel, my attitude towards it evolved. At first, I was very annoyed that it is yet another book presenting the African people as childish and naïve, and very serious problems in a simplified manner. In addition, it was just a novel depicting social life, not something with a premise of a mystery (like "Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency", which is written in a comparably light and simple style). I thought that really, it is not necessary to write like that, when there are African writers who not only slide over important issues, but they create remarkable literary works (e. g. Nadine Gordimer or Chinua Achebe).

Later on though, I realized that I enjoyed this novel and that it reads very fast, is evenly paced, and brings some joy to the reader despite being set in the part of the world, which just recently has risen from the ashes. It is probably addressed to a different group of readers than the books by the abovementioned authors, but it is OK. So, I came to the conclusion that "Baking Cakes in Kigali" is a good debut, a simple novel with likeable characters (especially good main female character!), introducing (perhaps in a fairy tale - like way) the country, which has been known to the public only from the alarming newspaper headlines.
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Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel
Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel by Gaile Parkin (Paperback - August 31, 2010)
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