Baking Cakes in Kigali

By Gaile Parkin. Published in 2009.

The skill of the storytelling in Baking Cakes in Kigali sneaks up on you. It’s such a sweet, pleasant little book that it’s easy to miss how deftly debut author Gaile Parkin weaves dramatic, quietly heartrending themes into her modest, charming tales of a middle-aged woman who runs a small home business baking and decorating cakes for friends and neighbors. Of course, the novel is set in Kigali, Rwanda, so there’s that to suggest that the book won’t be all sugar and spice, but with the Rwandan genocide in the past, and with Parkin’s Tanzanian protagonist not having experienced it firsthand, those horrors initially appear to be background. In fact, I wondered at first why Parkin chose to set her light story in such a dark place—and if Baking Cakes had merely been about baking cakes, perhaps that would have been would have been a question worth asking. But Baking Cakes is not merely about baking. Parkin has a more ambitious agenda—and much more sensitivity and grace—than I first credited.