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.
©2009 Gaile Parkin; (P)2009 Random House
This book presented a little bit of a challenge as an audiobook, since I had no context: was it supposed to be serious? Humorous? Sociological? Was it written by a Rwandan? How long was it?
Right off, I was struck by its "wanna be No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" flavor and its slightly awkward style, but before long I had gotten over those characteristics, and I began to enjoy the story and the interesting perspective that Parkin gave on life in Rwanda after the genocide in the 90's: this is not an "Africa in Peril" story, I am happy to say, but it gives the reader (listener) a sense of what it's like to live in a country that has undergone such a slaughter; where AIDS is rampant; where a cutting ceremony for a young girl might be a reality. While I do think there is a strong debt to Mma Ramotswe and Alexander McCall Smith here, this novel (and, possibly, series? Though this was published in 2010 and I haven't seen any others) digs more deeply into the social issues in Rwanda than Smith's books do.
The book is a pleasant and interesting read; while Parkin's writing can be a tad awkward in places, she's at her best when she tells less and shows more: for example, when she makes the off-handed comment that the name written on the christening cake for a baby girl is not, in fact, "Good Enough," as the parents originally wanted, but, instead, "Perfect." Go, Angel Tungaraza!
Finished last night on the way home. The reader did a marvelous job with the many characters and accents!
Absolutely lovely slice of life in modern Africa (the Rwandan city of Kigali), in a series of vignettes that unfold as people come to Angel to order a cake for some occasion in their lives. From the wife of the Tanzanian minister, to American aid workers and educators, a Rwandan soldier who was pressed into the conflict as a boy, an Indian professor and his germaphobe wife, Kenyans, South Africans, and more, you get a sense of the polyglot nature of the city, a soft-focus picture of what all of these people have witnessed, and a sense of the hope and renewal they are feeling.
Angel herself, not well-educated but with an instinctive wisdom, plays consultant, matchmaker, peacemaker, negotiator of water bills, and mother to her five orphaned grandchildren, as well as the rest of her neighborhood. She doesn't seem to realize that she is the beloved center of her community.
I loved the humor and tone of this book, and the chance to see into Africa in this way. I loved the snippets of languages (people in Kigali, even the least educated, speak multiple languages at least in part, in order to interact). There is Swahili, Kenyawandan, English, French, Africaans, and a host of funny-sweet-sensible colloquialisms which are easily understood, such as Angel's assurance to her clients of confidentiality "because I am a Professional Somebody."
And there is cooking! Each of Angel's cakes is as unique as the person who ordered it. The family's excitement over scoring a bag of freshly-caught grasshoppers, and preparation of them for an evening feast (remove the legs, boil for a few minutes, then coat and fry) reminds me of a soft-shell crab or shrimp fry in the U.S. and actually made me want to try them.
Eye-opening, rewarding read and an enjoyable treat. Highly recommended.
This book was recommended to me (otherwise, I don't know if I would have found it!) and I am so pleased that it was! It is a hidden gem!
The narration was perfect for this book, which is really like a collection of stories centered around a colorful group of people living in Rwanda. It ended too soon - I wanted to hear more about these people, who feel like friends and neighbors now! The author did a nice job of introducing cultural, societal, and economic ideas - things that can divide us as a society, but Angel is able to unite all those she touches with her wisdom and her cakes!
I hope we hear more from Gaile Parkin!
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