Review by Kelvin Odoobo
Gaile Parkin’s story is set in Kigali, written in the third-person, the story is told from the viewpoint of Angel Tungaraza, a professional cake-baker who runs a small business in Kigali.
She designs and bakes beautiful cakes for people in her neighborhood as they celebrate for different occasions, such as weddings anniversaries, christenings, engagements, homecomings and birthdays.
Angel Tungaraza with her husband Pius and their five orphaned grandchildren is Menopausal and putting on weight, but an enthusiastic baker of delicious, brightly-iced cakes, which she sells to friends and neighbors.
In each of the fourteen sections is a special occasion for which Angel bakes a cake but with usually mixed connotations of happiness and sadness.
In one case, a wedding cake celebrates the union of the shopkeeper Leocadie, whose mother has been imprisoned as a génocidaire, with the security guard Modeste, whose whole family were slaughtered which exemplifies reconciliation of two sides after the 1994 genocide.
The book is at times a coy and formulaic feel to its description of domestic life.
But it is fluent and deeply moving, especially in its portrayal of women survivors. Most memorable is Jeanne d’Arc, who has worked as a prostitute since the genocide, when she was 11, to support and educate two young sisters and a boy with no family.
Angel’s son, Joseph, was killed by robbers, and their daughter, Vinas died because of stress and high blood pressure.
Despite her pain, Angel is passionate about peace and harmony in her community. She is a confidante to a lot of her friends and customers.
As she hears from them their stories and secrets in life – some poignant, some inspirational, and some bittersweet – and tries to help them, she becomes changed and is empowered as she realizes that she, like them, has just as much to celebrate as well as to mourn.
The book is humorous and easy to read though it emphasizes how women should ‘rise up’, get educated, and fight for their own rights.
The descriptions of the assortment of different cakes are mouth-watering and the book cover is colourful and bright, making your reading more enjoyable.
The cakes, in some ways, represent the hope for the future held in the hearts of people reeling from Rwanda’s genocidal past.
Baking Cakes contemplates the difficult lives of the survivors of genocide, the unrelenting poverty and African women’s struggle for independence in a straightforward yet touching way.