Baking Cakes in Kigali begins as a series of vignettes, with author Gaile Parkin introducing characters and plot elements through visits to cake baker Angel Tungaraza’s apartment. The residents of Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, turn to Angel for their celebrations—and sometimes just a weeknight dinner party—and in the process share their lives and hopes with the Tanzanian transplant.
But as more characters enter the fold, their lives and these vignettes intertwine. Angel’s cakes are the route into relationships and people’s lives. She charms her clients with tea and conversation as she learns what occasion each cake will mark. Baking is a way to show you care, even if the cake is for hire.
She meets women with cheating husbands, women longing for love, men who have traveled the continent searching for their families. And Angel brings people in her community together, introducing one friend to another and building community through relationships.
After the premature deaths of her children, Angel has become both mother and grandmother to her grandchildren, and her love extends to others in the neighborhood. She serves as mother of the bride for shopkeeper Leocadie’s wedding, and when sex worker Jeanne d’Arc comes to her to order a cake for her sister’s confirmation, Angel offers the girl her grandchild’s confirmation gown.
Throughout, these interwoven friendships reveal despair turning to hope as people find trust and faith in each other. So much in Kigali is colored by AIDS and genocide. It seems the lives of everyone Angel encounters have been touched by those perils. Angel herself saw her son diagnosed with the virus. But as Angel celebrates weddings, confirmations and life with her clients, Baking Cakes in Kigali reveals a hope and joy not often associated with Rwanda.
Zambia native Parkin’s own experience as a relief worker in Rwanda inform this first novel, creating a complete view of life in this African nation.
Carla Jean Whitley writes and bakes in Birmingham, Alabama.