Colorful debut novel surrounds a cake-baking protagonist with a multinational cast of supporting characters.
Angel and her husband Pius tragically buried both of their grown children, son Joseph and daughter Vinas. Now the Tanzania-born couple are raising five grandchildren (two girls and three boys) in Rwanda’s capital city. Angel does her part to keep the family afloat by selling her cakes, which she decorates with bright colors and fanciful designs. Her skill has brought her a wide array of customers, including an ambassador and her neighbor Ken, a Japanese American who works for the United Nations. Ken is one of many foreigners who live in the same complex as Angel and Pius. Their lives intersect over polite cups of sweet, milky tea and conversations conducted in several languages, covering subjects that range from prostitution to HIV. The chapters, each one a little story unto itself, collectively develop the ongoing saga of Angel and her family. All the action takes place against a backdrop of social change, as African women in particular struggle to improve their lives and obtain educations. Angel functions as confidante to many; she’s a woman of immense compassion as well as a baker of extraordinary talent. This likable and interesting character, unfortunately, is not well served by cumbersome prose and glacial pacing. Parkin inserts back story by having characters repeat things they already know, a device that works once or twice but is ultimately annoying as well as contrived. In her dialogue, people constantly repeat each others’ names, something that rarely happens in real life.
Born and raised in Zambia, Parkin offers a fascinating personal glimpse into a culture unfamiliar to most Americans, but better editing could have transformed her slightly stilted effort into a book to remember.