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Baking Cakes in Kigali    by Gaile Parkin order for
Baking Cakes in Kigali
by Gaile Parkin
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gaile Parkin's Baking Cakes in Kigali has been compared to Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, with good reason. It stars Tanzanian Angel Tungararza who lives in an apartment complex in Rwanda with her husband Pius and their five grandchildren. Where are the children's parents? They have died and Angel and Pius have yet to fully process their loss.

Angel is a mother, a grandmother, an entrepeneur, and a wisewoman who dispenses advice and gently nudges friends, neighbors and customers for the cakes she bakes in positive directions. Her story is a balance - as in the yin/yan cake she bakes for her best customer - between the tragedy of AIDS and horror of genocide, and Chicken Soup for the Soul-style interventions.

Angel prevents a new baby from being christened Goodenough; ensures that foreign volunteers in her building are not overcharged for water usage; helps a controlling CIA agent's wife have a life of her own; assists a young woman forced into prostitution to support her siblings; feeds children who live in a Dumpster; and organizes a wedding that celebrates 'unity and reconciliation'.

Along the way and in helping others, Angel comes to term with the tragedies in her own family. Baking Cakes in Kigali is a delightful, very satisfying story. It deals with horrors but shows how life still goes on, and that there's still laughter and joy. A Reader's Guide at the back of the book includes an interview with the author as well as topics for Reading Group discussion.

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