Reading African complexities today : generic folding in Gaile Parkin’s Baking Cakes in Kigali

12 Feb 2015

This article examines a recent, internationally acclaimed popular novel from Africa, Gaile Parkin’s Baking Cakes in Kigali (2009), to explore the ways the customary cultural demarcation between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” literature, between entertainment and critique, can be blurred so as to enable more efficacious interventions, whether conceptually or pedagogically, into the complexities of contemporary African societies. The article begins by interrogating the immensely suggestive paradigm of “entanglement” (Mbembe and Nuttall) with a view to proposing more adequate images of sociopolitical complexity via the notion of “folding” (Deleuze and others). It then offers examples of such modified paradigms by looking at the generic ambiguity of Parkin’s novel, matched by the complex strategies it brings to bear on such fraught and intractable issues as FGM. The article suggests that this fusion of lightweight and serious, popular and conceptually challenging, is both an index of contemporary sociopolitical complexity in Africa and the site of the text’s purchase on that very complexity.