Baking Cakes in Kigali


MY INTERVIEW WITH GAILE PARKIN

Happiness after the tears
Rwandans are finding joy at last

By NICOLETTE SCROOBY

BORN in Kitwe, Zambia, Gaile Parkin , 51, studied at Rhodes University and taught English at the Fort Hare campus in Alice in the 80s. Baking Cakes in Kigali is her debut novel.

Question: Where do you write?

Answer: On whatever surface there is wherever I happen to be living. Right now, it’s the kitchen counter-top in the flat I’m renting in Joburg.

Q: Best time of day to write?

Early morning –

MY INTERVIEW WITH GAILE PARKIN

Happiness after the tears
Rwandans are finding joy at last

By NICOLETTE SCROOBY

BORN in Kitwe, Zambia, Gaile Parkin , 51, studied at Rhodes University and taught English at the Fort Hare campus in Alice in the 80s. Baking Cakes in Kigali is her debut novel.

Question: Where do you write?

Answer: On whatever surface there is wherever I happen to be living. Right now, it’s the kitchen counter-top in the flat I’m renting in Joburg.

Q: Best time of day to write?

Early morning – 3am. My mind shuts down come evening.

Q: Computer or pen?

A: Computer – or pencil when I can’t get to a computer or when there’s no electricity.

Q: Where did you get the idea for the plot of your novel?

A: During my two years in Rwanda I found that people were focusing less on the recent genocide and more on finding reasons – and creating occasions – for happiness, laughter and celebration. That was the aspect of Rwandan life I was interested in conveying, and cakes seemed the perfect vehicle.

Q: Did you encounter any difficulties while writing?

A: I struggled enormously with the idea of being light and funny about such a tragic context, and wasn’t able to begin writing until I’d persuaded myself it was okay.

Q: You currently live in Johannesburg, are a freelance consultant in education, gender and HIV/Aids. When do you get time to write?

A: In the spaces between assignments.

Q: I really liked the fact that you touched on HIV/Aids in the novel. With your work, this is obviously very close to your heart. Tell us your thoughts about addressing HIV/Aids in your book.

A: I don’t think you can set a novel in modern-day Africa and not mention HIV/Aids. I wanted in particular to deal with the problem of denial of the reality of the disease, so I had Angel confront the denial of the ambassador’s wife in the beginning, only to discover, later on, another level of denial within herself.

Q: You described each cake so intricately. Where does your interest in cakes come from?

A: I’ve seen so many beautiful, intricate, ornate cakes emerge from the very basic kitchens of women who wouldn’t regard themselves as remotely clever, skilled or creative. They have no idea how talented they are!

Q: Do you enjoy baking?

A: Yes, but I’m not very good at it.

Q: I loved that your main character Angel Tungaraza challenged and encouraged people to become better. Who/what did you base this character on?

A: Angel is an amalgamation of character traits from many women I’ve met over the years, and I think she’s fairly typical of strong African women who support and uplift one another and find a way to cope – and to remain positive – no matter what life throws at them.

Q: Have you started working on your next novel?

A: My agent in London has just given me a deadline for another novel. But I won’t jinx it by talking about it.

Q: What is your favourite book?

A: Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, for the exquisite beauty of the writing.

Q: Anything else you would like to tell us?

A: I baked a few cakes in Kigali myself. In my first year there I had no oven – the university refused to let me have one of the several ovens that were sitting in storage on campus not being used. In my second year I was moved to a smaller flat, and a Ghanaian colleague (a man) was moved into my old flat – and was immediately given one of the ovens from storage. My boss, a wonderful Ugandan woman, was incensed. She gathered together all the men who made decisions and asked them if they were discriminating against me because I was a woman, or because I was white. They were too ashamed not to give me an oven then – and I embarrassed them further by baking cakes for all of them.

REVIEW:
Baking Cakes in Kigali
By Gaile Parkin
(Atlantic Books )

BAKING Cakes in Kigali is funny, charming and simply delightful.

Set in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, the story revolves around Angel Tungaraza and her small cake baking business.

Angel and her husband, Pius, have recently moved to Rwanda from her native Tanzania, with their five orphaned grandchildren in tow. While her husband works at the university, Angel bakes individually designed cakes for her neighbours and friends’ parties and celebrations.

You won’t find any posh British talk between these Kigali neighbours, which makes for fun, light and simple reading, which South Africans will easily relate to.

Each chapter deals with a cake Angel is commissioned to make.

I think Angel is a local version of her favourite talk show host – Oprah Winfrey. She listens, gives advice and challenges their thinking. For instance, there’s a father, Dr Binaisa, who wants a cake for his daughter who likes planes. He thinks she’ll become an air hostess, but Angel makes him realise that his daughter can become an aircraft engineer.

Behind the heartache of the Rwandan genocide, the novel also addresses the issue of HIV/Aids, making it another reason why Baking Cakes in Kigali gets my thumbs up. — Nicolette Scrooby

(Published in the Daily Dispatch on February 7, 2009)

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