Baking Cakes in Kigali
By Gaile Parkin
(Delacorte Press, Hardcover, 9780385343435, 320pp.)
Publication Date: August 18, 2009
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Once in a great while a debut novelist comes along who dazzles us with rare eloquence and humanity, who takes us to bold new places and into previously unimaginable lives. Gaile Parkin is just such a talent—and Baking Cakes in Kilgali is just such a novel. This gloriously written tale—set in modern-day Rwanda—introduces one of the most singular and engaging characters in recent fiction: Angel Tungaraza—mother, cake baker, keeper of secrets—a woman living on the edge of chaos, finding ways to transform lives, weave magic, and create hope amid the madness swirling all around her.
In Kigali, Angel runs a bustling business: baking cakes for all occasions—cakes filled with vibrant color, buttery richness, and, most of all, a sense of hope only Angel can deliver.…A CIA agent’s wife seeks the perfect holiday cake but walks away with something far sweeter…a former boy-soldier orders an engagement cake, then, between sips of tea, shares an enthralling story…weary human rights workers…lovesick limo drivers. Amid this cacophony of native tongues, love affairs, and confessions, Angel’s kitchen is an oasis where people tell their secrets, where hope abounds and help awaits.
In this unlikely place, in the heart of Rwanda, unexpected things are beginning to happen: A most unusual wedding is planned…a heartbreaking mystery—involving Angel’s own family—unravels…and extraordinary connections are being made among the men and women who have tasted Angel’s beautiful cakes…as a chain of events unfolds that will change Angel’s life—and the lives of those around her—in the most astonishing ways.
Gaile Parkin was born and raised in Zambia and studied at universities in South Africa and England. She has lived in many different parts of Africa, including Rwanda, where Baking Cakes in Kigali is set. She spent two years in Rwanda as a VSO volunteer at the new university doing a wide range of work: teaching, mentoring, writing learning materials, working with the campus clinic to counsel students with HIV/AIDS, and doing gender advocacy and empowerment work. Evenings and weekends, she counselled women and girls who were survivors. Many of the stories told by the characters in Baking Cakes for Kigali are based on or inspired by stories Parkin was told herself. She is currently a freelance consultant in the fields of education, gender, and HIV/AIDS.