Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Review

I am a regular and frequent user of the Fairfax County Library System. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I'm cheap. Unless a book is very inexpensive (or better - free on loan), I refuse to pay full price.  Second, I do not like clutter. So unless a book is worth keeping, it goes out of the house. And third, I have found that there are very few books worth rereading.

However, some of them DO hold up over time. The P.G. Wodehouse books, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series, and P.D. James are good examples. But most books that have been published in the last ten years or so are a one-time read and then "good-bye!"

That's why the book sale our Friends of Reston Regional Library ran is so great. While there, I located an Advanced Reading Copy of Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin and grabbed it. It cost ONE WHOLE DOLLAR!

Having just finished reading it, I can say that it was, hands down, the best book I have read in 2010. And it is worth keeping.

The setting of the book is in Kigali, Rwanda, where people from many different countries have come to help Rwanda on the path to unity and reconciliation after the terrible genocide that occurred in 1994. The central character, Angel, bakes cakes for all kinds of people who are celebrating all kinds of special occasions. Angel and her husband Pius, a university professor, are Tanzanian, and parents to their five grandchildren whose parents are deceased. The way Angel mothers the children, and everyone else who crosses her path, is amazingly compassionate, yet not the least bit over-indulgent.  Rather than judging people who are different from her, Angel personifies love, even as she struggles to understand the differences.

The two non-human characters that shape this book are the 1994 genocide and AIDS. The genocide is a backdrop for the situations Angel's customers and neighbors find themselves in, and "the virus" is the unspoken fear of all who live around them. Both have created "families" out of people often not related and the absurd becomes normal. For example, there are children who live in the communal dumpsters (mayibobo), harvesting any nourishment they can from the scraps of food tossed out. Angel and the other women, understanding that some situations are beyond their capacity to "fix", simply let the mayibobo live there, and feed them as well as they can. The fear of AIDS forms a curtain of untruth which finally must be pushed aside as the people seek to re-establish the basic values of humanity and through Angel's painful acknowledgement of the truth of her daughter's death, we see how the fear no longer triumphs over Angel's life.  Author Gaile Parkin weaves these themes throughout Angel's interactions with her customers and friends, always focusing on the hope.  She does it so beautifully that the blogger had tears in her eyes from laughter, sorrow, and joy.

Part of me wanted to rush to the end to see the outcome, the other part savored each page and tendril of plot development. I would love to see what else Gaile Parkin comes up with -- this will be a difficult book to surpass!

This is not a commercial plug for anything -- just sharing the joy of finding a great read!

1 comment:

Susan at Stony River said...

Excellent! I love finding a good book -- and it doesn't happen often enough anymore.