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Baking Cakes in Kigali
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 31 December 2008
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Set in Rwanda, the intriguing quality of this novel lies in its incongruity: it deals with the aftermath of genocide with a surreal serenity. There is nothing in the writing style that is tense, ugly or staccato; what shocks is how matter-of-fact the characters are about the horrors they have endured. They have all been touched intimately by war and have for the most part survived in one fashion or another.

It is this question of survival that forms the leitmotif for the whole book. The various methods people use are explored through the experiences of the protagonists. The author offers no opinion on the 'correct' way but simply suggests how such unfortunates manage to survive at all.

The main character, Angel, is well-defined and believable in her calm manner and common-sense approach to her situation. I found some of the minor characters difficult to distinguish one from another because they are sketched almost thumbnail against the backdrop of compound life and not clearly enough defined on introduction.

It is hard to comment on the plot because there is not really a definable start-middle-end. The action strolls along much like life itself, which gives the book a familiar and almost insubstantial feel.

Towards the end, I felt a tighter editing would have helped as the prose meanders a little; the outline, vague to start with, grows fuzzy as it nears the horizon.

All in all, I found this novel easy to read, enlightening and sensitively written. It addresses a very difficult subject without any pathos or hysteria and is written with a lightness of touch that is refreshing.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 9 January 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This style of this book is very much akin to the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series and Angel (the cake-maker in question) is very similar in many ways to Precious Ramotswe - wise, diplomatic, gently philosophical and traditionally built. But this story is set against a backdrop of unimaginable suffering - the Rwandan genocide and the subsequent AIDS epidemic. Each character has a different, often heart-breaking, story to tell. Ultimately though this book celebrates the endurance of the human spirit and remains humorous and up-beat. Angel's business thrives because, despite everything, people still have things to celebrate. Angel herself is a wonderful character, always ready to see the best in others and to do what she can to improve their situations. I really learned a lot from this book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This highly entertaining story is set six years after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Angel Tungaraza is a Tanzanian woman who moved there with her family following the genocide. She lives in an apartment block in Kigali where aid workers and Rwandans mingle, and the story is centred there. Angel is a keen baker of colourful and mouth-watering cakes which she tailors skilfully to the requirements of friends and neighbours.

But this is no lightweight tale of cosy family life. There is real substance to the fourteen sections of the novel. In each, Angel bakes a cake for a celebration full of promise but taking place in the terrible shadow of the past. She also manages to provide help to her clients without their realising it. The story is moving without being upsetting in its portrayal of women survivors who represent hope for the future.

Gaile Parkin has spent a lifetime in Africa. In Rwanda, she counselled survivors of the genocide. She does a wonderful job in this, her first novel, of conjuring up strong images of Rwanda, injecting humour as she goes. I recommend it highly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 5 February 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Angel Tungaraza has set up a cake business in Rwanda, having recently moved from Tanzania with her husband Pius and her five grandchildren. She takes pride in being a professional businesswoman and ensures there is always a good cup of sweet tea for her clients. Each chapter is based upon a particular cake (e.g. an anniversary cake, a birthday cake, a wedding cake) and the story of the cake through her interactions with the people in her community.

However, it is not all tea and cakes. Although the book is written in a very matter of fact way, in the same calm and composed way the book touches on deeper themes of death, suicide, female circumcision, AIDS and the Rwandan genocide.

The character of Angel is very well developed and similar in many ways to the main character Precious in Alexander McCall Smith's "No.1 Ladies Detective Agency" series. Whilst I would recommend it to fans of the detective agency books, it is a bit more repetative and I also found that as there are many minor characters these were not so well developed. Despite those negatives it is still a great debut novel and I look forward to reading more from Gaile Parkin in the future.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 24 June 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is definitely a book for your suitcase this summer; a delightful story of a lady baker in Rwanda. Angel Tungaraza has moved from Tanzania with her husband and family and takes her oven and cooking skills with her. Each chapter is a separate story set around Angel and the people she meets. But it's not all happy; some of the people Angel meets have large problems which she helps solve with a smile and a cake.

Angel reminds me of Mma Ramotswe of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency written by Alexander McCall Smith. She has the same sort of charm although I thought the book was not as well written as McCall Smith's series but hey, this is the first book about Angel. It was good to read references to the horrors that Rwandans experienced and the way that HIV and Aids have also helped to decimate the population. But for all that there is a joy of living, good relationships and caring for one another and I loved reading about the different cakes which she baked and iced for different people.

Yes buy it, read it and pass it on. Gaile Parkin won't get a prize for this book but there are a lot worse out that which you might be reading!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2012
Reading other reviews of the book on Amazon, I realized that the publishers had tried to promote the book on the success of the Alexander Mc-Call Smith's success of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. I was using a large print edition which did not include this. However, as I started reading the book, the similarities between the two became very clear.

But it is possibly a mistake of the publishers to compare the book to the McCall Smith books as I have come across a number of readers who did not enjoy the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, although the television series was a success.
Initially the book appeared to be going nowhere. Short episodes about customers who call for the very special cakes are very clearly written, and the book is not long winded. But at one stage the thought did cross my mind that perhaps it was not worth finishing the book. There are many aspects of the book that you may wonder about- could there be such a demand for cakes - for almost any occasion? Maybe this did apply to the rather well- to -do community in Kigale.

The involvement of the lady who baked the cakes in so many issues that she was often able to solves so successfully did sometimes seem far fetched. But there are lovely insights into the daily life in Kigale. For instance her search for a pair of shoes shows very vividly how many people tried to earn a living and the effect of a potential buyer near one seller on other sellers was realistic. What was also interesting was the contrast between many western sets of values and the local ones- it almost reminded one of the change that is so movingly described in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

Gradually the book started being more interesting and that is linked to the fact that I had been to Rwanda, about ten years after the genocide, and so could relate to many of the places and stories about the genocide. For those who are not very knowledgeable about the genocide might not see the value of many of the episodes in the book.

For a reader who is knowledgeable about the genocide, and may have seen films like Hotel Rwanda, the personal tales described in the book signify many trends in Rwanda today- the personal tragedies for so many ordinary people, friends, families and neighbours, what the Tutsi and the Hutu did, good and bad, and the process of reconciliation. However, without this background knowledge, the book could be disappointing for readers.

It seemed as if the book was becoming more interesting but then it went back to a detailed description of events such as a possible circumcision, and a wedding organized by the heroine, Angel. The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books- although after the third one I got bored with them- included details of very ordinary like in Gaborone, it managed to have those round a central theme of the solving of cases. The baking of cakes in Kigale does not have the same effect. If the book had focused on the genocide and its consequences, it could have been a book with depth, and worthwhile to read. Gaile Parkin had a good opportunity but she missed it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I was drawn to this book because I'm a big fan of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency and a lot of reviewers have commented on the likenesses between the characterisation and settings of the books so I definitely thought this was worth a read.

This book is actually a genuinely touching novel of family, friends and overcoming adversity in a country that has been mired in atrocity.

Set in Rwanda post-genocide, the story centres on the wonderful sounding Angel Tungaraza, a middle-aged cake-baker who is something of a sounding board and shoulder to cry on for her eclectic array of friends. Despite Angel's outwardly bubbly appearance, she herself has been touched by tragedy, and as she encounters friends and neighbours who have faced troubling, sometimes heartbreaking situations of their own, she realises that life can also be a celebration of overcoming adversity. What better way to celebrate than with cake and tea?

Funny in places, poignant in others, the book is more a character study than in any way plot heavy. You learn a lot about aspects of Rwandan culture and attitudes to situations and events, which was a bit of an eye-opener, though it is told in a simplistic, easy to understand way. There are definitely similarities to the No1 Ladies series too- both protagonists are strong, moralistic, independent professional women- and not exactly young either. They also believe that life's great problems can be solved and discussed over a cup of tea, which is a wonderful outlook to have on life!

What sets `Baking Cakes...' apart from the No 1 Ladies books however is that this story is not written in as gentle and philosophical style, and this book of course touches on much harsher subjects including genocide and AIDS, though both are still depicted in a very matter of fact manner from the character's perspectives that actually tugs on the heartstrings a bit.

In summary, I'm really glad I read this book- it's not a rip off of the McCall books, it definitely stands out as a warm, independent read. It was a really enlightening read too, though not exactly life-affirming from a personal perspective. I'm looking forward to reading the author's next novel- and hoping that Angel may return in future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Set in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, this book centres around the life of Angel Tungaraza, who runs a business from home baking special cakes for special occasions. Through Angel, we meet her friends, family and neighbours, and find out what they have to celebrate in their lives, and what they have to mourn.

I rather enjoyed this book. It isn't great literature, and there isn't a story line as such - but I loved the gentle unfolding of peoples' lives. We learn a little about everything that colours life in Rwanda today; how Rwandans have been affected by the terrible racial killings of the mid 90's - nearly everyone has lost loved ones and/or narrowly escaped death themselves; about the multiculturalism and multilingualism of a society populated by Rwandans, blacks from neighbouring African states and Europeans (Wazungu) working for the UN or voluntary agencies. We meet homeless and orphaned street children, prostitutes, and resourceful women picking up the pieces of their fractured lives and running their own businesses.

Every character has a story of their own, and Angel dispenses, and receives in turn, both sympathy and wisdom, in the course of her many, many conversations. I loved the way Angel looked for something positive in every situation (without becoming "preachy" or "Pollyanna-ish") to balance out the bad bits. And I loved the gentle humour that runs through the book..

All in all, the message of the book is one of survival, and I believe it will cheer many people who read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is very similar to the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, by Alexander McCall Smith, and if you enjoy that series, this will not disappoint. However many have complained about this similarity, but the book is still enjoyable and there is a difference in plot and substance between the two.

The book is set in Rwanda and the main character Angel Tungaraza, has recently relocated from her Tanzanian home there, where her husband Pius has taken up a university lecturing post. From their two bedroom apartment in an ex-pat compound in Kigali, Angel raises her five orphaned grand-children, helps her neighbours out, and runs a cake making business.

Each chapter introduces you to a new set of characters, who have in some way been affected by the genocide in Rwanda; the teenage rape victim turned prostitute, the genocide survivor reunited with long lost family, and the wedding of Hutu and Tutsi. All of whom end up at Angel's door asking for advice on how to deal with their problems as well as discussing Angel's own beliefs, including AIDs and the genocide itself. Intertwined with this is Angel's cake making business, characters requesting various designed cakes (the descriptions of the cakes will make you drool, and immediately want to start baking!) for all occasions and Angel even teaches one of them how to cook, so she can start her own cake business to support her children.

This is a delightful book, a pleasant and enjoyable read but the author doesn't shy away from serious subjects that are present in Africa, making it more an enlightening read. I hope there will be more to come!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 June 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I had hoped this book, set in Rwanda in the present day, would be like the popular No1 Ladies Detective Agency books, a gentle tale with endearing characters, set in a country that is a bit different therefore adding depth to the story, making it a bit meatier. The characters are fairly gentle, there seems to be lots of them, so I don't feel I know them particularly well. I found the menopausal Angel T to be no Mma Ramotswe, she was slightly irritating, had no charm and spent half her time fishing her tissue out of her brassiere (it was ALWAYS called the brassiere, never bra), and the blasted woman obviously didn't own an outfit with pockets. Or even sleeves. This may sound odd but it was one of those little niggly things that annoyed me very early on in the book. I didn't gel with Angel as a character like Mma Ramotswe, although they both seemed to be traditionally built African ladies, who was slightly bossy and interfering, Mma Ramotswe did it with so much more aplomb. Obviously they are both fictional characters, so I can only attribute this to the writing style.
The other characters suffered from a distinct lack of development. Because there were so many of them, you never got to know them, even though the book is quite a bit bigger than any of the No 1 Ladies Detective Books. I keep comparing it to these books, as it seems to me that Gaile Parkin is trying to capture that market. Maybe I have misjudged the book, but the similarities between the two heroines were sometimes too obvious to ignore. However the book doesn't really go anywhere and is just an excuse to meet lots of different characters and hear their stories. Didn't live up to its potential for me.
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