Angel Tungaraza has moved to Rwanda with her husband, Pius, from their homeland of Tanzania. Angel bakes cakes. Angel owns a cake shop. Everyone loves Angel’s cakes. People come from far and wide to order her cakes, and while they discuss the pastries, her customers inevitably share their life stories, complete with shortsighted and ignorant errors of logic. These always prompt Angel to remove her spectacles and wipe them clean. She is forever removing her glasses and cleaning them, so as to see her customers’ problems more clearly. Get it? Right. In the end, useful advice is dispensed, the customers go away happy, and a beautiful cake is made.
This is essentially the book; each chapter follows a very predictable pattern, and Angel is reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe. Scattered throughout the story are purposeful streams of dialogue about Rwanda’s political state, social justice, and how the Rwandan people are remaining strong despite a past of trauma and hardship. I was surprised that a story like this can come across so lightly, one that deals with just about every heavy social and political ill that plagues the poorest of African nations. From HIV to genocide, child soldiers to prostitution, every issue one could think of is crammed in and given a quick, shallow treatment. I can see what Parkin is trying to do here, and in my opinion it is overdone, and yet underdone at the same time.
This book, while charming and pleasant and nice, reads like a series of overstated eccentricities which make the author’s point too obvious to be deeply meaningful. When you can see so clearly what an author is trying to accomplish, the actual point loses its poignancy. Angel’s life comes across as nothing but a series of formulaic events brimming with expository moralizing and heartwarming resolutions. One thing I can say is that the story did pique my interest in traveling to central Africa. Baking Cakes is an extremely light read, and one I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re looking for a story with the sweetness and fluff of Angel’s cakes themselves.