Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel

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Overview

.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, ...
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Overview

.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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in an international apartment complex in Rwanda, Parkin's appealing but overstuffed debut throws together university professors, U.N. employees and CIA agents among a panoply of traditions and cultures. Heroine Angel Tungararza has moved from Tanzania with her husband, Pius, who's taken a job at the local university; before long, she develops a reputation as a masterful baker and a sagacious friend. Though haunted by the deaths of her grown daughter and son, Angel plunges back into motherhood, caring for her five grandchildren, tending to Pius, baking cakes and dispensing advice. Meanwhile, the sour undercurrents of AIDS and genocide play quiet but instrumental parts in shaping Angel's world. In Parkin's eagerness to introduce a rainbow of cultures and personalities, she crowds her enjoyable but terminally dedicated heroine, forcing Angel to take a saccharine supporting role in her own story; almost simultaneously, she's soothing survivors of Rwandan genocide, reconciling a local prostitute and her client, and serving as an honorary mother-of-the-bride. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Angel Tungaraza runs a cake business from her apartment in the multicultural Rwandan city of Kigali. She drives a hard bargain for her beautiful cakes, but the advice she gives her varied clientele over tea is on the house. As a Tanzanian, Angel is easier for Rwandans to confide in—she is a fellow African yet does not share their terrible past. Angel is a businesswoman and wife, neighbor and confessor, matchmaker and righter of wrongs, and grandmother and mother to her five grandchildren since the deaths of her son and daughter. Fans of Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series will enjoy the setting and this engaging main character, though readers who look for in-depth character development will be somewhat disappointed that we don't get to know some of Angel's customers and neighbors more fully. Parkin's first novel is not without moral complexity, yet it is ultimately a story of hope and recovery for a country torn apart by genocide and AIDS. VERDICT Recommended for all glass-half-full readers with an interest in Africa. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.]—Gwen Vredevoogd, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, VA
School Library Journal
Adult/High School—Grieving over the murder of their son and the murky details of their daughter's death, Angel, an inspired and popular baker, and Pius, a university professor, leave Tanzania with their five grandchildren for Rwanda. Angel is commissioned to bake cakes for every occasion, and her interest in the story of the celebrant and the client as well as the nature of the celebration expands her role to confidante, therapist, financial adviser, and matchmaker. She is privy to the most intimate stories, some as horrific as those of victims of the 1994 genocide, others as mundane as unrequited love. Upon hearing the stories, Angel is compelled to help with more than cake making. Most touching and symbolic is her role as surrogate mother in a wedding of truth and reconciliation between a Hutu and a Tutsi. The descriptions of Angel's thought processes are as eloquent as they are simple. Charming images of spicy sweet tea and mouthwatering cakes and humorous explanations such as how to deceive a dishonest tailor are juxtaposed with heartbreaking accounts of child hobos living in Dumpsters. This is a good choice for readers interested in the political and social life of African countries and fans of Alexander McCall Smith's "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series (Pantheon).—Jackie Gropman, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library System, Fairfax, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Colorful debut novel surrounds a cake-baking protagonist with a multinational cast of supporting characters. Angel and her husband Pius tragically buried both of their grown children, son Joseph and daughter Vinas. Now the Tanzania-born couple are raising five grandchildren (two girls and three boys) in Rwanda's capital city. Angel does her part to keep the family afloat by selling her cakes, which she decorates with bright colors and fanciful designs. Her skill has brought her a wide array of customers, including an ambassador and her neighbor Ken, a Japanese American who works for the United Nations. Ken is one of many foreigners who live in the same complex as Angel and Pius. Their lives intersect over polite cups of sweet, milky tea and conversations conducted in several languages, covering subjects that range from prostitution to HIV. The chapters, each one a little story unto itself, collectively develop the ongoing saga of Angel and her family. All the action takes place against a backdrop of social change, as African women in particular struggle to improve their lives and obtain educations. Angel functions as confidante to many; she's a woman of immense compassion as well as a baker of extraordinary talent. This likable and interesting character, unfortunately, is not well served by cumbersome prose and glacial pacing. Parkin inserts back story by having characters repeat things they already know, a device that works once or twice but is ultimately annoying as well as contrived. In her dialogue, people constantly repeat each others' names, something that rarely happens in real life. Born and raised in Zambia, Parkin offers a fascinating personal glimpse into a culture unfamiliarto most Americans, but better editing could have transformed her slightly stilted effort into a book to remember.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307577795
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/18/2009
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

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.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

An Anniversary

In the same way that a bucket of water reduces a cooking fire to ashes--a few splutters of shocked disbelief, a hiss of anger, and then a chill all the more penetrating for having so abruptly supplanted intense heat--in just that way, the photograph that she now surveyed extinguished all her excitement.

"Exactly like this?" she asked her guest, trying to keep any hint of regret or condemnation out of her voice.

"Exactly like that," came the reply, and the damp chill of disappointment seeped into her heart.

Angel had dressed smartly for the occasion, in a state of great anticipation of the benefits that it might bring. Completing her ensemble by pushing a pair of small gold hoops through her earlobes, she had stepped out of her bedroom and into the living room, scanning the room again to check that it was ready for her special guest. The children's clutter had all been put away in their bedroom, and the tiled floor had been scrubbed to a shine. The wooden frames of the three-seater sofa and its two matching chairs had been polished, and each of their cushions--encased in a sturdy fabric patterned in brown and orange--had been plumped to the full extent capable of a square of foam rubber. On the coffee table she had placed a gleaming white plate of chocolate cupcakes, each iced in one of four colours: blue, green, black and yellow.

Then the shout had come through the open doorway that led off the living room on to the small balcony: the signal that she had been waiting for from her neighbour, Amina, who had been standing on the balcony directly above her own, on the look-out for the expensive vehicle making its way up the hill towards their compound.

With a renewed surge of excitement, she had slipped back into the bedroom and, concealing herself behind the curtain to the left of the window, she had watched through the ill-fitting louvers as the smart black Range Rover with its tinted windows had turned right on to the dirt road and pulled up outside the first of the building's two entrances. A smartly-uniformed chauffeur had stepped out from behind the wheel and, holding the passenger door open, had called to the two security guards lounging beneath a shady mimosa tree on the other side of the road. The taller of the two had shouted a reply and had stood up slowly, dusting the red earth from his trousers.

Mrs Margaret Wanyika had emerged from the vehicle looking every inch the wife of an ambassador: elegant and well-groomed, her tall, thin body sporting a Western-style navy-blue suit with a knee-length skirt and a silky white blouse, her straightened hair caressing the back of her head in a perfect chignon. As she had stood beside the vehicle talking into her cell-phone, her eyes had swept over the building in front of her.

Angel had ducked away from the window and moved back into the living room, imagining, as she did so, the view that her visitor was taking in. The block of apartments, on the corner of a tarred road and a dirt road in one of the city's more affluent areas, was something of a landmark, its four storeys dominating the neighbourhood of large houses and high-walled gardens, where drivers hooted outside fortified gates for servants to open up and admit their expensive vehicles. People knew that it was a brand-new building only because it had not been there at all a year before: it had been constructed in the fashionable style that suggests--without any need of time or wear--the verge of decay and...

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Introduction

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.
 
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Baking Cakes in Kigali. They were derived from two American Jewish World Service-AVODAH book group discussions. We hope they will enrich your experience of this unforgettable novel.

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Foreword

1. What do you think Angel Tungaraza's role is in the book? Is she primarily an outsider, the author's voice, more of a universal voice, or something else?

2. What did you make of the author's depictions of Rwandans? And of foreigners—African and non-African—living in Rwanda? Were the interactions between them believable? Why or why not?

3. In thinking about each character's role in the community, can you draw any conclusions about the effects of post-genocide Rwanda?

4. Reconciliation seems to be a strong theme in this book. It is represented by the marriage of Leocadie and Modeste. Do you think that reconciliation is possible on a personal or national level?

5. Each of the characters in the book has grappled with significant challenges: loss of loved ones through war or disease, economic struggles, inequality in relationships and gender roles, etc. What do you make of the seemingly positive and light tone of the book in relation to these devastating challenges?

6. What if anything surprised you when reading this book? Was the expatriate community what you expected it to be?

7. What did you take away from the female circumcision scene? Though humorous, did the situation ultimately leave you feeling positively or negatively about the women's role in the family?  

8.Did you find this to be a powerful book? Do you think that the quiet wisdom this book projects aligns well with the reality of the situation in Rwanda?

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Reading Group Guide

1. What do you think Angel Tungaraza's role is in the book? Is she primarily an outsider, the author's voice, more of a universal voice, or something else?

2. What did you make of the author's depictions of Rwandans? And of foreigners—African and non-African—living in Rwanda? Were the interactions between them believable? Why or why not?

3. In thinking about each character's role in the community, can you draw any conclusions about the effects of post-genocide Rwanda?

4. Reconciliation seems to be a strong theme in this book. It is represented by the marriage of Leocadie and Modeste. Do you think that reconciliation is possible on a personal or national level?

5. Each of the characters in the book has grappled with significant challenges: loss of loved ones through war or disease, economic struggles, inequality in relationships and gender roles, etc. What do you make of the seemingly positive and light tone of the book in relation to these devastating challenges?

6. What if anything surprised you when reading this book? Was the expatriate community what you expected it to be?

7. What did you take away from the female circumcision scene? Though humorous, did the situation ultimately leave you feeling positively or negatively about the women's role in the family?  

8.Did you find this to be a powerful book? Do you think that the quiet wisdom this book projects aligns well with the reality of the situation in Rwanda?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 23 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

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(10)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A well written tale

    Angel and Pius Tungararza move from Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda as he has accepted a position at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. Angel becomes renowned for her cake baking and her nurturing as she raises her five grandchildren although she still grieves the deaths of her adult children.

    Her Rwandan neighbors see her as a fellow African not tainted by the genocide; besides she is intelligent and caring. As Angel sells her cakes to them, her visitors ask for her advice on a myriad of subjects. Over tea, she provides her new friends and customers with sage assistance for free.

    Pius will remind readers of Precious Ramotswe (see No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith) although she is not a detective; she helps her clients cope with their personal issues. Ironically, her clients are never developed beyond representing a complex ugly issue that they face to include the genocide, AIDs, abject poverty, official corruption, and homeless parentless children, etc. Yet with all the darkness attached to a country whose most famous accomplishment in the last century was the genocide, there is a sense of renewal and optimism.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 1, 2012

    This book manages to be ultimately uplifting even though it cove

    This book manages to be ultimately uplifting even though it covers some of the most gruesome subjects of modern times. It's a rare opportunity for us to get an intimate glimpse into the daily life of Africa; touching on many of the complex issues facing this great continent today. Topics such as genocide, HIV and female circumcision are woven into the fabric of the story much like a spider weaves his beautifully crafted web.

    All of the characters in the novel are brought to life skillfully. The main character, Angel, is just an amazing literary creation. Her day-to-day hardships, which are many; and successes, small as they may be, are portrayed through the world of her small home baking business. Her beautiful, decorative cakes are described so clearly, we can almost smell them! Tragedy has struck her family again and again; but she refuses to let it get the better of her. Her stoicism and ability to survive in the face of the worst events imaginable are a lesson to us all.

    I am a fan of The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series, but those stories are shallow and sophomoric compared to Baking Cakes in Kigali. This book delves so much deeper and goes into so much more detail; and indeed, the writing is better. Thanks are due to Library Thing, Delacorte Press, and Gaile Parkin for their consideration in sending this book for review through Library Thing's Member Giveaway Early Reviewer's program.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 4, 2011

    Great!

    I thought this book was allegorical, humorous, and had a sense of hope, similar to the silver lining in the movie Hotel Rwanda. A great debut novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2011

    A Fun Read

    I had read this for my African Studies class and I can honestly say that it is one of the better books that I have read for school. It takes a couple of chapters to get into, but after that it is draws you in. There is humor, tragedy, and romance that blends together for a fun read. I recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2011

    LOVED THIS BOOK! Everyone should read it - high school and beyond.

    This story and the characters Parkin creates will grab your heart. You hear about the unspeakable dark things in the lives of Rwandans and nearby neighbors, but their stories are told during a time of hope and celebration - they are each ordering a cake! The reader has to think about the effect of AIDS, genocide, racism, and more facing these Africans, but we also get to see the process that some have gone through to keep on going, to forgive, to begin to heal. This is such a wonderful story, told so beautifully, that I think it should be essential reading for high-school age students and adults.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    If you enjoyed Alexander Mccall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, don't miss Baking Cakes in Kigali

    Angel and her husband Pius Tungaraza and their five grandchildren came to Rwanda by way of their home country Tanzania. Pius works as a special consultant at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology; Angel has a thriving business as a cake designer and baker of unparalleled cakes. They live in a modern apartment building, largely populated by fellow expats. Among their neighbors is one of Angel's best customers, the generous Japanese American Ken Akimoto. Not only does Ken regularly order cakes at expat ("Wazungu") prices, but Ken's Pajero and driver Bosco are available to Angel and other neighbors without fail. The building also houses the Wazunga feminists Sophie and Catherine who work as volunteers teaching women and young girls English and skills. The other neighbors work at aid agencies and non-governmental organizations, as doctors, and one is rumored to work for the CIA.

    No matter where they work, whether they are Wazungu or fellow African or local Rwandan, it seems as though they all share the need to celebrate and do so through Angel Tungaraza's special homemade cakes. Angel's creativity and masterful baking draw in clients, but once people taste Angel's kindness, warmth, and caring, they leave as friends. Gaile Parkin's Angel Tungaraza reminds me of Precious Ramotswe from Alexander Mccall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Not because are both "traditionally built" African women, but because they're both independent businesswomen whose humor and caring, problem-solving skills and gentle maneuvering, constantly benefit everyone around them. Expat neighbor, Rwandan driver, ambassador's wife, doctor, nurse, student, bank teller, restaurant owner, sex worker, unwed mother, or child - all receive Angel Tungaraza's attention and friendship.

    Although Baking Cakes in Kigali touches on dark and difficult issues such as AIDs, genocide in Rwanda, suicide, poverty, government corruption, the many displaced and homeless children, and the hunting and extinction of wild animals, Gaile Parkin and Angel Tungaraza approach them with such sensitivity and humor that the stories combine the bitter with the sweet. Baking Cakes in Kigali is a delightful debut novel and a fun, satisfying read.

    Publisher: Delacorte Press (August 18, 2009), 320 pages.
    ISBN-10: 0385343434
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2010

    What a lovely book

    Baking Cakes in Kigali is a stunning first novel, and I can't wait to read more from Gaile Parkin! A lovely story of family and reconciliation following the atrocities in Rwanda, Baking Cakes in Kigali addresses those horrors as well as the AIDS epidemic in Africa. At the same time, the love and wisdom of friends, family, and neighbors provide a wonderful backdrop for learning of African customs. Very reminiscent of the Mma Ramotswe books by Alexander McCall Smith. If you've enjoyed those, you'll love this as well.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 7, 2009

    Thought provoking and very enjoyable

    Having spent time in Kigali, in such a compound as this book describes, when I picked up this book, I wondered if Parkin really would capture its essence. Having read it, I was not disappointed and can say that she's done a great job, without dwelling so heavily on the atrocities that have beset this country, that it makes it painful to read as fiction. Instead, she has deftly woven this country's recent history amongst engaging characters, in a way that is empathetic and thought provoking.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    A lovely book, engaging characters and a realistic view of Kigali

    I purchased this since my niece was teaching in Rwanda. The setting is realistic, the use of language is quirky and true to the city, and the sense of the city and the way people live gives you a window on how people live in Kigali. I loved the characters, and the subtle way the characters were developed. I strongly recommend this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    I love Baking Cakes in Kigali

    I loved Baking Cakes in Kigali. I was drawn to the book because I love to bake and it was wonderful to see that cakes can help with problems and bring people together. I liked learning about Rwanda; I wasn't aware of all the suffering and the AIDS epidemic there. Baking Cakes in Kigali is an uplifting bookm with good characters. Angel reminded me of Mme. R in the Alexander MCCall books. I would highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 27, 2009

    I loved the characters, enjoyed the humor, and was warmed by the sense of hope found in Baking Cakes in Kigali.

    Baking Cakes in Kigali is the heartwarming tale of Angel Tungaraza, a professional cake baker living in Rwanda. She creates beautiful and creative cakes; an airplane for a young girl's birthday, a prison with bent bars for a divorce party, and a ying/yang cake to create balance.

    Each cake comes with a story - families reunited after the genocide in Rwanda, young women learning to be entrepreneurs, love affairs, and divorces. At the center of it all is Angel dispensing advice, cupcakes, and sweet tea and keeping secrets because she is a professional somebody. Angel's ability to gently solve the problems of everyone around her is nicely balanced with her struggles to overcome her own heartbreak. Both her daughter and son are dead and she must come to terms with their deaths while raising her grandchildren. The book doesn't shy away from tough issues confronting AIDS, genocide, and infidelity head on and this lends the story a depth and realistic flavor it would otherwise be missing.
    I loved the characters, enjoyed the humor, and was warmed by the sense of hope found in Baking Cakes in Kigali. I'll look forward to reading Gaile Parkin's next novel!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A sweet and gentle read

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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