Title: Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel
Author: Gaile Parkin
Pages: 320 (hardcover)
Release date: August 18, 2009 (hardcover)
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Rating: 4 out of 5
Meet Angel Tungaraza, professional cakebaker, amateur matchmaker, with an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. With her husband, Pius, and their five orphaned grandchildren, Angel has recently moved from her native Tanzania to Rwanda, where she runs a successful cake business, catering to her neighbours and their friends.
As her customers tell her their stories, Angel comes to realize how much each of them has to mourn, and equally, to celebrate.
I knew I had to read this book the moment I spied its title - a book about cakes in Rwanda was intriguing. Enter Angel Tungaraza, a professional somebody who bakes exuberantly coloured theme cakes for friends and neighbours in Kigali. As Angel takes their orders over sweet cardamom-spiced tea, Rwanda and its people come to life.
While Angel bakes cakes to help her customers celebrate special occasions, they tell her their stories. Set 6 years after the genocide, the novel is moving in its depiction of a people determined to overcome the horrors of the past, seeking "unity and reconciliation" while daring to hope for a better future.
Central to Rwanda's policy of reconciliation is the elimination of the ethnic distinctions which divided the country, its people united as "Banyarwanda" or Rwandans. And yet, as often happens when I read about unfamiliar places, I was surprised to discover the incredible multiculturalism and diversity in Kigali: religious, ethnic and national. In Parkins' Kigali, Muslims live and celebrate alongside Catholics, Indians alongside Americans, South Africans alongside Somalis.
Angel's cake tour of Kigali culminates in a spectacular wedding celebration which she pulled together with donations from her friends and neighbours, "a truly pan-African celebration", exactly the type of celebration which she hopes will help Rwandans believe in reconciliation.
A warm and moving story of family and friendship in Kigali, Baking Cakes in Kigali reminds us all of our shared humanity and the devastating effects of inhumanity.
Lessons from Rwanda: The United Nations and the Prevention of Genocide is a programme established by the UN to take lessons from the genocide in Rwanda to prevent similar atrocities in future and to document the struggles the survivors continue to experience over 15 years later. Particularly touching are the images from The Visions of Rwanda photography project which brought together genocide survivors to create a portrait of Rwanda as seen through the eyes of its people: "These poignant accounts and many others like them depict a country on a path toward reconciliation. The resounding voices of survivors touch us in ways that no other words could."