For most of the time I was reading this book I assumed the author was a Black African, like the eponymous cake baker, Angel. Then at some point I observed that she seemed to be a little "magical Negro," even if most of the the people she interacts with are also Black Africans. Anyway, it turns out the author is a white Brit who grew up and has lived in many African countries, and now I'm not sure how I feel about the book.
Purely as a reading experience, I liked it. I liked Angel, her wisdom and her learning. It's not an eventful book, or even one of extreme character development. It's episodic and feel-good, easy for a white person to like. I was bothered that the author interview in the back doesn't address race at all, nor do the reader's guide questions. If not race in the reader's guide, how about the role of the CIA and IMF in Rwanda, since they're both represented in the novel?
It's easy to criticize and damn a person of privilege writing about people without/with less/with different privileges. Is it okay for Parkins to write about Black Africans? Would it be more okay if she wrote a white protagonist? There are definitely conflicting opinions out there, and who wants to get into policing someone's creativity, but still...once I realized Parkins is white, I felt less comfortable with the book, more suspicious about it. I'd appreciate reading a more sophisticated analysis of the discomfort, or even a "chill out, dude!"
What I do like about the novel, regardless of how I feel about Parkins rights and responsibilities as a white African, is that she wrote a perimenopausal character. Angel has hot flashes, a poor memory and doesn't sleep well!
I also thought this was sweet:
"Pius, you need to breathe," said Angel. Taking his right hand, she placed its palm flat against the area between her throat and her breasts, holding it there with her left hand as she flattened her right palm on his chest. "Breathe with me."
It was the way they had calmed each other throughout their marriage, the one guiding the other until their breaths were equally deep and slow, in and out in such unison that they lost track of which of them was setting the pace.