Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baking Cakes in Kilgali by Gaile Parkin

Baking Cakes in Kilgali
Gaile Parkin
5/5 stars

(I was given the ARC by Amazon Vine in return for an honest review.)

Angel Tungaraza moved to Kigali, Rwanda from her native Tanzania when her husband took a job at the local university. An accomplished cake maker, Angel adds extra income to her large family and gives herself much joy by making custom-ordered cakes for friends, neighbors, and strangers who have heard the good word about her fabulous creations. In addition to being a "professional someone" (as she would call herself), Angel is Mama to her five orphaned grandchildren, confidant of friends and strangers, and a true example of a good woman.

Each chapter centers around one of Angel's cakes, giving the reader shorter stories inside the larger story. It is a story of family, of community, of all manners of love and reconciliation, and of course, of beautiful cakes. I wish I could explain the plot better, to show how desirable a read this is, but I simply can't. Suffice it to say that it is a surprisingly complex plot, despite this books benign face, with Angel facing several interesting ethical issues as well as the range of various good, bad and amusing situations.

Ms. Parkin uses the fact that Angel is an outsider to Rwanda to easily explain the current situation and the bloody past of this country. It never feels contrived; the explanations happen very naturally--as does most everything in this book. . . It all feels very natural. Customs are clarified, situations set up, the reader gently led here and there and yet, it just feels "real" and lifelike, always smooth and believable. Even the conversations, held in a manner so different from Western conversations, become so real that when a Westerner does appear, using typical Western speech, it seems brash and out of context.

This is truly a masterpiece, a first novel of the highest quality. It is a lovely, heartwarming book that sparkles with gentle wit, at times tugs the heartstrings, but is above all, a joyful experience. I can not recommend this novel highly enough. What a pleasure, what a delight. I expect to see much more of Ms. Parkin in the future

(originally read/reviewed in 2009)