Thursday, February 11, 2010
Ann's Cake Book Review: Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
This is a book that I processed at the library a few months ago. I made a note of it at the time to read later in the year, so I took it home over Christmas break. Unfortunately, it took me much longer to finish it than I had intended. This was for several reasons, not the least of which was that this book was lame. Here's the basic premise: Angel runs a cake baking business from her home in Kigali, Rwanda, a few years after the genocide there. Through her business and her involvement in the community, she meets various native Rwandans, immigrants, relief workers, and officials, and listens to their stories (and dishes out advice and inserts herself into other people's lives). As a result, the book is really just a lot of little vignettes that are kind of held together by the premise of the cake business. The problem is that Angel is portrayed as always knowing what is best for everyone (this falls apart a little at the end of the book, but holds true for the majority), which makes it difficult to like her. In one particularly annoying scene, she explains to the wife of an ambassador who denies the existence of AIDS in her homeland that if all the countries surrounding that country are afflicted with AIDS, then her country must have it too. It just got really old to always hear Angel telling people what they should do in "cute" ways. For some reason, the fact that she is going through menopause is also featured prominently. The author of the book is a former relief worker in Rwanda and specifically says that she wanted to tell the stories of the people she met there, and I don't think that it's a bad desire, but this makes the book extremely self-aware and therefore doesn't give it a lot of depth. She could easily have told the same stories with better writing and more of a real plot, but everything is done in such a superficial, obvious way, with no subtlety. I know that I'm the one person who hates feel-good things, but essentially every bit of this book is meant to be "heart-warming" and "charming", and I just found it obnoxious. And there is really very little cake in the book - it doesn't delve into her cake baking much at all, and instead focuses on the cake decorating. But even that is treated in a really superficial way - it only talks about the finished product, and the reader almost never gets to see Angel in action with her cakes. If you like cute stories that are calculated to manipulate you into feeling good and hopeful about life, you may like this book, but who am I to say? There was almost no chance from the beginning that it could have won me over, and I know I'm the aberration. So instead, don't read it because you're not going to get your cake fix from this book.