This would be a great book for a girl to leaf through no matter where she is in the world.
Since starting my weekly review of novels that inspire travel, I have looked at several works with high critical acclaim. One of them, 419, is a major award winner. This week, however, I'm taking a slightly different approach. Don't be concerned - this week's book is still well written and well thought out. It's just that, well, I'm almost afraid to say it, but this selection nearly falls into the category of "chick-lit"!!
It's no Bridget Jones' Diary I read, but rather Gaile Parkin's charming and delightful "Baking Cakes in Kigali".
Our central character, Angel, is a busy, mother-hen type of figure. A talented baker and cake decorator, as well as a savvy business woman, she decided the time is right to move to Kigali and set up a cakes-to-order business. She reasons that as Rwanda moves past their sad history of genocide, there will be much personal and political celebration.
But as talented as she is in baking and business, Angel really shines in being a beacon for gossip and can't resist taking an interest in the concerns of her neighbours. Chauffeurs, doctors, NGO workers - no one is safe as Angel fiddles with a relationship here, tweaks an outcome there. And along the way, she faces some complex decisions - will she, for instance, bake a special cake to celebrate a young girl about to undergo female genital mutilation - that reflect the hard realities of daily life and reconciliation in Kigali.
I loved this book for several reasons. First, I thought it was wonderful to have a novel set in Africa that was so cheerful, lighthearted, funny, and upbeat. Rwanda has been the inspiration for so many serious novels and films that I found it exciting to see an author focus on positive relationships, neighbourly kindness, and the comedic side of life.
Secondly, as someone who travels, I often want a not-so-serious novel to keep me company on the road and let me daydream about future trips. I thought it was great that this slightly-girly novel wasn't about finding the boy, chasing the boy, keeping the boy, but instead about a well developed character I could really relate to.
Does this book make me want to travel to Rwanda? Absolutely! While I am all to aware of the many problems the region still faces, and I can appreciate that the author chose to show only one side of life in Kigali, I was still mesmerized by the portrayal of a beautiful, delightful city with a whole host of funny characters.
I think anyone who enjoyed Alexander McCall Smith's "The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency" series would love this book - they have similar styles and similarly written main characters.
I think this would be a great book for a girl to pick up and leaf through no matter where she is in the world - a bit of chick lit with some real oomph behind it. And I think anyone who is apprehensive about travelling to Rwanda for the first time would feel more at ease about how welcoming and friendly the people are.
You can find this wonderful book in my Amazon Store, or go check out your local bookshop.