Baking Cakes in Kigali

Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Reason read: the Rwanda genocide happened on April 6th, 1994. Read in memory of that event.

Respected as a skilled baker in her new Rwandan community, Angel Tungaraza also acts as a voice of reason and likes to solve her customer’s problems whether they ask for her help or not (think of a bartender or hair dresser; someone who can listen to one’s woes and offer advice for the sheer sake of chitchat). Drawing from her life in Tanzania, she manages to help her friends and neighbors in unique ways. Angel isn’t without her faults, though. She protects her reputation fiercely and can come across as snobbish when she doesn’t approve of the cake someone else has baked or designed. If the customer chooses colors and styles that are “boring” in Angel’s opinion she secretly scoffs at them. She also carries a secret shame; one that she cannot even admit to herself.
Throughout Baking Cakes in Kigali I was comparing Angela to Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote.” Only instead of murders, Angel Tungaraza muddles her way through issues such as adultery, ritual cutting, equal rights for women, and racial prejudices; tackling the aftershocks of societal catastrophes such as AIDS and the Rwandan genocide.

Author fact: Parkin also wrote When Hoopoes Go to Heaven which is not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Many, many people compared Baking Cakes in Kigali to Alexander McCall Smith’s series.

Nancy said: Pearl called Baking Cakes in Kigali “charming.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).


January Jinxed

January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.

Fiction:

  • Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
  • The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
  • Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
  • The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
  • Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
  • The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
  • The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).

Nonfiction:

  • Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).

Series continuations:

  • Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
  • The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).

Catastrophist

Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist: a Novel. New york: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Bennett celebrates a birthday in January.

The underlying theme of this political thriller is the mistiming of love. One is already more ready than the other to give into the insecurities of love…until they are not. Compared over and over to Graham Greene, Bennett’s Catastrophist is character driven and full of political intrigue. Irish novelist James Gillespie tells the story of his journey to the Belgian Congo to follow his Italian girlfriend, Ines. As an ambitious journalist, she is covering the Congolese struggle for independence. Once the passion of her life, now she has little time or patience for James. Meanwhile, his romantic pendulum has swung in the other direction, clinging to a newfound adoration obsession for Ines. I found their relationship to be shallow and self-serving. But, no matter. James gets caught up in the politics and befriends all the wrong people, pushing Ines further away. When she takes up with another man, it appears all hope is lost for reconciliation with James…and yet, James is blindly willing to go to unbelievably remarkable lengths to show his devotion.

Line I really, really liked and just had to quote, “The apartment reeked of our estrangement” (p 160). One more, “He was too absorbed in disguising his own failure, from me, from himself” (p 206).

Author fact: Bennett has written a plethora of other books, but I am only reading The Catastrophist for the Challenge. Additionally, I read somewhere that Bennett had trouble with the law throughout his life, including accusations of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy.

Book trivia: this should be a movie. There is certainly enough sex and violence to make it a thriller. There was talk of making a movie, but I’m not sure it ever got off the ground.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Catastrophist a “political thriller” and suggested it should be read with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African Colonialism (fiction)” (p 15).


January Jumping

Believe it or not, I’m kind of happy with the way January is shaping up already, five days in. After the disappointments of December I am definitely ready for change. I’m running more these days. I convinced a friend to see sirsy with me. I’m not sure what she thought, but I am still in love with the lyrics. Anyway, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett – in honor of Bennett’s birthday being on the 14th of January. (EB)
  • Sanctuary by Ken Bruen – in honor of Bruen’s birthday also being in January. Confessional: I read this book in one day. (EB)
  • The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat – in honor of Danticat’s birthday also being in January. (EB)
  • Graced Land by Laura Kalapakian – in honor of Elvis’s birth month also being in January.
  • Passage to India by E.M. Forster – in honor of Forster’s birth month also being in January. Yes, celebrating a lot of birthdays this month!

Nonfiction:

  • Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten – in honor of a Cuban Read Day held in January.
  • Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel – in honor of China’s spring festival.

Series continuations:

  • Persuader by Lee Child – the last one in the series, read in honor of New York becoming a state in July (and where Child lived at the time I made this whole thing up). (AB)
  • The Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset – this is another series I am wrapping up. I started it in October in honor of a pen pal I used to know in Norway.

Early Review:

  • I am supposed to receive an Early Review from November’s list, but it hasn’t arrived so I can’t mention it. For the first time in a long, long time (perhaps ever, I’ll have to look), I did not request a book for the month of December.

August Gusted

When I look back at August my first thought is what the hell happened? The month went by way too fast. Could the fact that I saw the Grateful Dead, Natalie Merchant (4xs), Trey Anastasio, Sirsy, and Aerosmith all in the same month have anything to do with that? Probably. It was a big month for traveling (Vermont, Connecticut, NYC) and for being alone while Kisa was in Charlotte, Roanoke, Erie, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Colorado. And. And, And! I got some running done! The treadmill was broken for twenty days but in the last eleven days I eked out 12.2 miles. Meh. It’s something. Speaking of something, here are the books:

Fiction:

  • African Queen by C.S. Forester
  • Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas
  • Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin
  • Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Nonfiction:

  • American Chica by Marie Arana
  • Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge
  • Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

Series continuation:

  • Die Trying by Lee Child
  • Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov

Early Review cleanup:

  • Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm
  • Open Water by Mikael Rosen

Antonia Saw the Oryx First

Thomas, Maria. Antonia Saw the Oryx First. New York: Soho, 1987.

Reason read: August is Friendship Month.

Antonia Redmond and Esther Moro have an interesting relationship as they couldn’t be anymore different from one another. Antonia, an educated white woman, was born to American parents but has lived in Dar es Salaam, Africa nearly all of her life. As a doctor, she has been schooled in traditional modern medicine. Meanwhile, Esther Moro is on the other end of the spectrum as a woman who sells her body to make ends meet. “She knows only men” as the band The Horseflies would say. After a particularly violent encounter with a Greek fisherman Esther and Antonia meet as patient and doctor. At first Esther wants Antonia to teach her the rules of modern medicine, but soon discovers she has the power to heal within her already. Esther listens to her culture’s whisperings of witchcraft, ancient legends, and curses.

Author fact: Maria Thomas was a pen name for Roberta Worrick. She died in a plane crash was she was only 47 years old.

Book trivia: Two pieces of trivia, actually. Antonia Saw the Oryx First was Thomas’s first novel. She also wrote African Visas which is on my Challenge list for May 2031.

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything specific about the book or the author; just describes the plot a little.

BookLust Twist: Twice from Book Lust. Once in the chapter called “African Colonialism: Fiction” (p 14) and also in the Book Lust chapter “Women’s Friendships” (p 247).


African Queen

Forester, Cecil Scott. The African Queen. New york: The Modern Library, 1940.

Reason read: I needed a classic I’ve always wanted to read for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading challenge. This one fit the bill. And, and! And, it was short!

Who doesn’t know the movie version of this book? Thanks to Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and a little Academy Award for Best Actor, everyone has seen it. Nearly everyone that is, except me. Fear not, it’s on the list.

To set the stage: Africa, World War I. Rose is high spirited, a spunky woman despite being a strait-laced and virginal missionary’s sister. She is out for revenge for the death of her brother; she wants to torpedo the Germans to strike a blow for England. Enter gin-swilling mechanic Charlie Allnut and his river boat, the African Queen. Rose is only too eager to learn all about the African Queen to determine its full usefulness to exact her revenge – torpedoing the German police boat, the Konigin Luise. Rose’s patriotism and lust for adventure adds up to a woman Allnut has never seen the likes of before. She somehow convinces him to take on her quest and it is her feisty nature that gets her and Allnut through deadly rapids, thick mangroves, choking weeds, malaria infested swarms of mosquitoes and stifling heat down the Bora delta.
Typical and predictable, a relationship blooms between Rose and Charlie, but how could it not when confined on a river boat for days on end? As they say, misery loves company. Despite seeing the relationship a mile away Forester reissued his story so that he had the opportunity to present the end of the story as he originally intended. It’s not what you expect.

Lines I just had to quote, “Allnut tried to keep his amusement out of sight” (p 39), while Rose was described thusly, “A woman sewing has a powerful weapon at her disposal when engaged in a duel with a man” (p 91). He’s bumbling and she’s feisty.
More lines I liked, “Allnut would not have exchanged Rose for all the fried fish shops in the world” (p 165). Aint romance grand?

As an aside, I just love an author who uses the word willynilly.

Author fact: C.S. Forester might be better known for his Horatio Hornblower sea adventures.

Book trivia: The African Queen was made into a movie in 1951 as I mentioned before.

Nancy said: Pearl only mentioned The African Queen because Forester is known for it, above and beyond his Horatio Hornblower series.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217). As you guessed it, I deleted this from the Challenge list because The African Queen takes place on an African river, not the high seas.