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.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights 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 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 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 her...
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Book Description Delacorte Press. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0385343434 . Bookseller Inventory # Z0385343434ZN
Book Description Delacorte Press, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. New Condition, Bookseller Inventory # 1709230182
Book Description Delacorte Press. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0385343434 New Condition. Slight shelf wear on dust jacket. Bookseller Inventory # FHS-BMKH-2557
Book Description Delacorte Press, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1st Printing. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0385343434
Book Description Delacorte Press, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0385343434
Book Description Delacorte Press, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110385343434