Baking Cakes in Kigaliby Gaile Parkin
This soaring novel introduces us to Angel Tungaraza: mother, cake baker, pillar of her community, keeper of secrets big and small. Angel’s kitchen is an oasis in the heart of Rwanda, where visitors stop to order cakes but end up sharing their stories, transforming their/i>
BONUS: This edition contains a Baking Cakes in Kigali discussion guide.
This soaring novel introduces us to Angel Tungaraza: mother, cake baker, pillar of her community, keeper of secrets big and small. Angel’s kitchen is an oasis in the heart of Rwanda, where visitors stop to order cakes but end up sharing their stories, transforming their lives, leaving with new hope. In this vibrant, powerful setting, 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 made—as a chain of events unfolds that will change Angel’s life and the lives of those around her in the most astonishing ways.
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Baking Cakes in KigaliA Novel
By Gaile Parkin
Delacorte PressCopyright © 2009 Gaile Parkin
All right reserved.
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 thecoffee 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 collapse.
With mounting excitement, Angel had awaited the security guard's familiar knock at the door of her apartment, and when it had come, she had opened the door, beaming with delight and effusively declaring it a very great honour indeed to welcome such an important guest into her home.
But now, sitting in her living room and staring at the photograph that she held in her hand, all of her excitement fizzled suddenly, and died.
"As you know, Angel," the Ambassador's wife was saying, "it's traditional to celebrate a silver wedding anniversary with a cake just like the original wedding cake. Amos and I feel it's so important to follow our traditions, especially when we're away from home."
"That is true, Mrs Ambassador," agreed Angel, who was herself away from home. But as she examined the photograph, she was doubtful of the couple's claim to the traditions that they had embraced when choosing this cake twenty-five years ago. It was not like any traditional wedding cake she had seen in her home town of Bukoba in the west of Tanzania or in Dar es Salaam in the east. No, this cake was traditional to Wazungu—white people. It was completely white: white with white patterns decorating the white. Small white -flowers with white leaves encircled the outer edges of the upper surface, and three white pillars on top of the cake held aloft another white cake that was a smaller replica of the one below. It was, quite simply, the most unattractive cake that she had ever seen. Of course, Mr and Mrs Wanyika had married at a time when the style of Wazungu was still thought to be -fashionable—prestigious, even. But by now, in the year 2000, surely everybody had come to recognise that Wazungu were not the authorities on style and taste that they were once thought to be? Perhaps if she showed Mrs Wanyika the pictures of the wedding cakes that she had made for other people, she would be able to convince the Ambassador's wife of the beauty that colours could bring to a cake.
Setting down the photograph, Angel removed her spectacles and, delving into the neckline of her smart blouse to retrieve one of the tissues that she kept tucked into her brassiere, began to give the lenses a good polish. It was something that she found herself doing without thinking whenever she felt that someone could benefit from looking at things a little more clearly.
"Mrs Ambassador, no words can describe the beauty of this cake . . ." she began.
"Yes, indeed!" declared the Ambassador's wife, leaving no space for what Angel was going to say next. "And at the party, right next to our anniversary cake, we're going to have a big photo of me and Amos cutting our wedding cake twenty-five years ago. So it's very important for the two cakes to be exactly identical."
Angel put her glasses back on. There was clearly nothing to be gained from helping Mrs Wanyika to see that her wedding cake had been ugly and plain.
"Don't worry, Mrs Ambassador, I'll make your anniversary cake exactly the same," she said, smiling widely to disguise the sigh of regret that she could not entirely prevent from escaping. "It will be just as beautiful as your wedding cake."
Mrs Wanyika clapped her meticulously-manicured hands together in glee. "I knew I could depend on a fellow Tanzanian, Angel! People in Kigali speak very highly of your baking."
"Thank you, Mrs Ambassador. Now, perhaps I could ask you to start filling in an order form while I put milk on the stove for another cup of tea?"
She handed her guest a sheet headed "Cake Order Form" that her friend Sophie had designed on her computer, and her husband Pius had photocopied at the university. It asked for details of how to contact the client, the date and time that the cake would be needed, and whether Angel was to deliver it or the client would collect it. There was a large space to write in everything that had been agreed about the design of the cake, and a box for the total price and the deposit. At the bottom of the form was a dotted line where the client was to sign to agree that the balance of the price was to be paid on delivery or collection, and that the deposit was not going to be refunded if the order was cancelled. Angel was very proud that her Cake Order Form spoke four languages—Swahili, English, French and Kinyarwanda—though less proud that, of these, she herself spoke only the first two with any degree of competence.
Their business concluded, the two women sat back to enjoy their tea, made the Tanzanian way with boiled milk and plenty of sugar and cardamom.
"So how is life for you here compared to home?" asked Mrs Wanyika, sipping delicately from one of Angel's best cups, and continuing to speak English—their country's second official language—in defiance of Angel's initial attempts to steer the conversation in Swahili.
"Oh, it's not too different, Mrs Ambassador, but of course it's not home. As you know, some of the customs here in Central Africa are a little different from our East African customs, even though Rwanda and Tanzania are neighbours. And of course French is difficult, but at least many people here also know Swahili. And we're lucky that here in this compound most people know English. Eh, but you're too thin, Mrs Ambassador, please have another one."
Angel pushed the plate of cupcakes towards her guest, who had failed to comment on the colours—which were the colours of the Tanzanian flag—and had so far eaten only one: one of those iced in the yellow that, on the flag, represented Tanzania's mineral wealth.
"No, thank you, Angel. They're delicious, really, but I'm trying to reduce. Youssou has made a dress for me for the anniversary party and it's a little bit tight."
"Eh, that Youssou!" commiserated Angel, shaking her head. She had had a couple of unfortunate experiences of her own with the acclaimed Senegalese tailor of La Couture Universelle d'Afrique in Nyamirambo, the Muslim quarter. "He can copy any dress from any picture in a magazine and his embroidery is very fine, but eh! I think the women back in Senegal must all be thin like a pencil. It doesn't matter how many times Youssou measures your body, the dress that he makes will always be for a thinner somebody."
This was a rather sore point for Angel, who used to be a thinner somebody herself. She had never been thin like a pencil, not even as a girl, but in the last couple of years she had begun to expand steadily—particularly in the region of her buttocks and thighs—so that more and more of her clothes felt like they had been fashioned by the miscalculating Youssou. Dr Rejoice had told her that gaining weight was only to be expected in a woman who was experiencing the Change, but this had not made her feel any better about it. Still, running her business in her own home meant that she was able to spend most of her time wearing a loose T_shirt over a skirt fashioned from a kanga tied around her waist—an ensemble that could accommodate any size comfortably.
"And how is life in this compound?" asked the Ambassador's wife.
"We're secure here," said Angel. "And even though all of us in the compound are from outside Rwanda, we're a good community. Eh! We're from all over the world! Somalia, England, America, Egypt, Japan—"
"Are they all working at KIST?" Mrs Wanyika interrupted Angel before she could complete the entire atlas of expatriates. The Kigali Institute of Science and Technology—a new university that had recently been established in the capital—was attracting a great number of expatriate academics.
"No, it's only my husband who is there. KIST doesn't accommodate the ordinary staff, but Pius is a Special Consultant, so his contract says they must give him accommodation. The others here are mostly from aid agencies and non—governmental organisations. You know how it is when a war is over, Mrs Ambassador: dollars begin to fall like rain from the sky and everybody from outside rushes in to collect them." Angel paused for a moment before adding, "And to help with reconstruction, of course."
"Of course," agreed the Ambassador's wife, shifting rather uncomfortably on the orange and brown cushions of the wooden sofa.
Angel knew that Ambassador Wanyika's salary would have been boosted dramatically by an additional bonus to compensate him for the dangers and hardships of being stationed in a country so recently torn apart by conflict. She observed Mrs Wanyika casting about for a change of subject, and saw discomfort giving way to relief when her guest's eyes found the four framed photographs hanging high up on the wall next to the sofa.
"Who are these, Angel?" She stood up to get a better look.
Angel put down her cup and stood to join her. "This is Grace," she said, indicating the first photograph. "She's the eldest, from our son Joseph. She has eleven years now. Then these two here are Benedict and Moses, also from Joseph. Moses is the youngest, with just six years." She moved on to the third photograph while Mrs Wanyika produced well-rehearsed exclamations of admiration. "These are Faith and Daniel. They're both from our daughter Vinas." Then Angel touched the fourth and final photograph. "These are Joseph and Vinas," she said. "Joseph has been late for nearly three years now, and we lost Vinas last year." She sat down again rather heavily, the wood beneath the cushions of her chair creaking perilously, and knotted her hands in her lap.
"Eh, Angel!" said Mrs Wanyika softly, sitting down and reaching across the coffee table to put a comforting, well-moisturised hand on Angel's knee. "It's a terrible thing to bury your own children."
Angel's sigh was deep. "Terrible, Mrs Ambassador. And such a shock to lose both. Joseph was shot by robbers at his home in Mwanza . . ."
"Uh-uh_uh!" Mrs Wanyika shut her eyes and shook her head, giving Angel's knee a squeeze.
"And Vinas . . . ," Angel put her hand on top of her guest's where it rested on her knee. "Vinas worked herself too hard after her husband left her. It stressed her to the extent that her blood pressure took her."
"Ooh, that can happen, Angel." Releasing her grip on Angel's knee, Mrs Wanyika turned her hand over to meet Angel's hand palm to palm, and held it tightly. "My own uncle, after he lost his wife, he devoted himself to his business to such an extent that a heart attack took him. Eh! Stress? Uh_uh." Shaking her head, she clicked her tongue against the back of her neat upper row of glistening teeth.
"Uh_uh," agreed Angel. "But Pius and I are not alone in such a situation, Mrs Ambassador. It's how it is for so many grandparents these days. Our children are taken and we're made parents all over again to our grandchildren." Angel gave a small shrug. "It can be a bullet. It can be blood pressure. But in most cases it's the virus."
Mrs Wanyika let go of Angel's hand and reached for her tea. "But of course, as Tanzanians," she said, her tone suddenly official, drained of compassion, "that is a problem that we don't have."
Angel's eyebrows rushed to consult with each other across the bridge of her nose. "I'm sorry, Mrs Ambassador, but you're confusing me. It sounds to me like you're saying that we don't have the virus at home in Tanzania. But everybody knows . . ."
"Angel!" Mrs Wanyika's voice, now a stern whisper, interrupted. "Let us not let people believe that we have that problem in our country. Please!"
Angel stared hard at her guest. Then she removed her glasses and began to polish the lenses with her tissue. "Mrs Ambassador," she began, "do you think that the virus is in Uganda?"
"In Uganda? Well, yes, of course. Even the government of Uganda has said that it's there."
"And in Kenya?" continued Angel. "Do you think that it's in Kenya?"
"Well, yes, I've heard that it's there."
"And in Zambia? Malawi? Mozambique?" Angel put her glasses and her tissue down on the coffee table and began counting the countries off on her fingers.
"Yes," admitted Mrs Wanyika, "it's in those countries, too."
"And what about the Democratic Republic of Congo?"
"Oh, it's very well known that it's in DRC."
"And surely you've heard that it's in Burundi, and here in Rwanda?"
"Well, yes . . ."
Excerpted from Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin Copyright © 2009 by Gaile Parkin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.