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VINE VOICEon August 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on September 16, 2009
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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on 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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on November 27, 2009
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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on June 14, 2016
Baking Cakes in Kilgali addresses some very serious issues: Rwandan genocide the AIDS crisis in Africa and the practice of female genital mutilation. The protagonist of the novel is a talented cake baker who becomes a central figure in the lies of many of er neighbors. This is very well written and the issues are dealt with sensitively and compassionately
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on January 23, 2016
This novel gives the reader a plethora of stories of people's lives in an environment that does not readily support life. The many threads of the stories and characters would be overwhelming if not for the strength the author gives Angel, the protagonist. A pleasure to read.
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on July 3, 2015
The story does an excellent job of describing events in Africa. These include the killings in Rwanda and social disruptions in other Central and East African countries. The author doesn't beat us over the head with the atrocities, but gives us just enough information. She then lets us know how people have gotten on with their lives. Angel, the heroine, has kindness and understanding that allows her to deal with difficult situations in a tactful manner. We see her evolution as a mother and grandmother. Painful subjects come up as relates to HIV/AIDS, infidelity, prostitution, and broken families. For a reader who is encountering these subjects for the first time, it is educational. I took the book to my South African friends, only to discover they had already read it. I highly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 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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VINE VOICEon July 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on September 9, 2015
Manages to examine difficult subjects (i.e. Rwandan genocide, prostitution, poverty, infidelity, orphans) with humor and gentleness. It is actually a fun read that makes you think. Highly recommended. I laughed aloud a few times and then got my studious husband to read it. He laughed too. We have both traveled quite a bit and can tell that the author has significant cross cultural experience.
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