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This book presented a little bit of a challenge as an audiobook, since I had no context: was it supposed to be serious? Humorous? Sociological? Was it written by a Rwandan? How long was it?
Right off, I was struck by its "wanna be No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" flavor and its slightly awkward style, but before long I had gotten over those characteristics, and I began to enjoy the story and the interesting perspective that Parkin gave on life in Rwanda after the genocide in the 90's: this is not an "Africa in Peril" story, I am happy to say, but it gives the reader (listener) a sense of what it's like to live in a country that has undergone such a slaughter; where AIDS is rampant; where a cutting ceremony for a young girl might be a reality. While I do think there is a strong debt to Mma Ramotswe and Alexander McCall Smith here, this novel (and, possibly, series? Though this was published in 2010 and I haven't seen any others) digs more deeply into the social issues in Rwanda than Smith's books do.
The book is a pleasant and interesting read; while Parkin's writing can be a tad awkward in places, she's at her best when she tells less and shows more: for example, when she makes the off-handed comment that the name written on the christening cake for a baby girl is not, in fact, "Good Enough," as the parents originally wanted, but, instead, "Perfect." Go, Angel Tungaraza!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Finished last night on the way home. The reader did a marvelous job with the many characters and accents!
Absolutely lovely slice of life in modern Africa (the Rwandan city of Kigali), in a series of vignettes that unfold as people come to Angel to order a cake for some occasion in their lives. From the wife of the Tanzanian minister, to American aid workers and educators, a Rwandan soldier who was pressed into the conflict as a boy, an Indian professor and his germaphobe wife, Kenyans, South Africans, and more, you get a sense of the polyglot nature of the city, a soft-focus picture of what all of these people have witnessed, and a sense of the hope and renewal they are feeling.
Angel herself, not well-educated but with an instinctive wisdom, plays consultant, matchmaker, peacemaker, negotiator of water bills, and mother to her five orphaned grandchildren, as well as the rest of her neighborhood. She doesn't seem to realize that she is the beloved center of her community.
I loved the humor and tone of this book, and the chance to see into Africa in this way. I loved the snippets of languages (people in Kigali, even the least educated, speak multiple languages at least in part, in order to interact). There is Swahili, Kenyawandan, English, French, Africaans, and a host of funny-sweet-sensible colloquialisms which are easily understood, such as Angel's assurance to her clients of confidentiality "because I am a Professional Somebody."
And there is cooking! Each of Angel's cakes is as unique as the person who ordered it. The family's excitement over scoring a bag of freshly-caught grasshoppers, and preparation of them for an evening feast (remove the legs, boil for a few minutes, then coat and fry) reminds me of a soft-shell crab or shrimp fry in the U.S. and actually made me want to try them.
Eye-opening, rewarding read and an enjoyable treat. Highly recommended.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful