Once again, I have a reason to be so happy I went to ALA. I picked this ARC up at some booth – not even sure which – because I haven’t read many things about Africa and thought this sounded interesting. It’s about Angel, a Tanzanian woman who bakes cakes professionally and who, along with her husband, is trying to take care of her five orphaned grandchildren. Her family currently lives in Rwanda, where her husband works in the aftermath of the genocide there. As a cake-baker and a sort of mother figure in the book, Angel hears about the lives of all those around her, both sad and happy. She is also struggling to come to terms with the deaths of both her children.
The book was fabulous. I worried, a little, about the setting. The genocide in Rwanda was gut-wrenchingly horrible. I’m a bit appalled that though I was 15 or so when it was happening, I never even heard of the whole situation until trying to read Deogratias earlier this year. How ridiculously blind we can be to what’s happening in the world around us! It makes me so sad! But more on that later. I had to abandon Deogratias because it was too gruesome. Too graphically violent. I was scared I’d get the same thing here, but Baking Cakes was nothing like that. It was tactful in every sense of the word. It didn’t gloss over the things that happened in Rwanda, but it did approach the subject in a polite and non-gruesome way. I really appreciated that.
As the book is primarily a swirling pot of stories, it’s hard to review in a traditional fashion, but I can’t sing its praises enough. There was more than once when I couldn’t stop laughing and had to go tell Jason all about the story I was on. There was more than one part when I was moved to tears and had to pull out the Kleenex. I learned a lot about multiple cultures, and also about the way the US is viewed in that part of the world. It was an interesting learning experience. I wish Angel was a real person, because I’d love to meet her!!
One of my favorite quotes deals with the blindness I was talking about above. A group of men, including Angel’s husband, Pius, walk through a genocide memorial of sorts, and are horrified by what they see. Angel refused to go in – and thus the narrator stays outside with her – but afterwards the men discuss the pain inside a little bit. They talk about a book at the end of the tour, where you can write your feelings. Lots of people had written “Never again” in that book. Angel says:
That is what they said when they closed the death camps in Europe. Remember Pius? There was a lot about never again at that museum we went to in Germany.
At which point, Pius replies with:
And if those words had meant anything then, there would not be places like the one we’ve just been to today, with books where people can write never again all over again.
What a powerful statement.
Baking Cakes was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. For a random grab I’d never heard of before, I am very happy.