Last year, I read Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin, and I really enjoyed it. I suggested it to my book club, and I was delighted it when it was selected as this month’s read! I reread it last week and searched for some discussion questions online. To my surprise, I couldn’t find any! So I’ve written some. Because I think this book will provide a great discussion, I want to share them with the rest of you so you can also have a book club on this book. I suspect you won’t be disappointed. Note that these questions, as original questions, are copyright Rebecca Reid.
If you have read the book, I’d be interested to hear your answers to any of the questions, or your thoughts in general about the book. If you have not read the book, “spoilers” obviously abound.
- Angel’s cake order form “speaks” four languages. At what times in the novel are there miscommunications because of language or cultural differences?
- Wazunga means “white people.” Of one native African, Angel says “Wazunga taste. Wazunga thinking.” Why does she say that? What is the difference between Wazunga thinking and African thinking?
- What do we learn from the novel about the status of women in the Rwandan society? How are the traditions changing?
- “They killed me, Angel, but I did not die,” says Odile (page 55). Which other people in the novel can say that?
- “And if those words [“Never again”] had meant anything then [when they closed the death camps in Europe], there would not be places like the one we’ve just been to today, with books where people can write never again all over again,” said Pius (page 65). What does the story of the genocide, as you read about it in this novel or elsewhere, teach you about history and human nature?
- “Now we are all Banyarwanda,” says one character (page 104). In what ways does the novel illustrate the unity among the Rwandans? In what ways are they still divided?
- In chapter 7, Angel ponders Modeste and Leocadie’s wedding as a “yin and yang” situation because there is some bad (Modeste’s other girlfriend is left alone) even in the midst of celebration. What other situations in the novel are also “yin and yang” situations?
- Captain Calixte believes a foreign woman will be eager to marry him, simply because he has a certificate stating he is HIV negative. In what ways is AIDS the “elephant in the room”? How does HIV/AIDS complicate life for all those in the novel?
- According to Angel’s friend, the fabric pattern she chose for her “mother of the bride” dress means “Help me and let me help you.” How does that relate to her personality? What dress patterns should the other characters in the novel select? Create your own pattern meanings based on what you know about the characters.
- Compare the story of Francoise (the restaurant owner) to that Leocadie’s mother, who is imprisoned for participating in the genocide. Francoise says, “If we had killed them [i.e., participated in the genocide], we would not have felt like human beings ourselves.” (page 216).
- Angel faces a few ethical dilemmas throughout the course of the novel, including the Captain Calixte situation and Safiya’s cutting. What would you have done in those circumstances?
- Despite Angel’s involvement in the community, she is still a Mzungu, a foreign worker in Rwanda. How has that changed her associations with the Rwandans?
- Although Angel did not experience the Rwandan genocide, she and her husband have been through personal tragedy. How do the genocide survivors help them cope with their losses? What does Angel learn about her own daughter?