Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

“But when you were a girl, people could tell you how to walk, how to sit, what to do, where to go, how to think, who to love. And who to obey.”

– Charmaine Wilkerson, “Black Cake”

Review:

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson opens with two estranged siblings, Byron and Benny, who discover some shocking secrets after their mother’s death. As they grapple with their mother’s loss and their own grief, they also must grapple with the stories revealed to them in their mother’s voice recording. Their mother is not who she said she was. So by extension, Byron and Benny are not entirely who they believe themselves to be either.

Byron and Benny listen as their mother reveals the oral histories of a family in the Caribbean, the tale of a gambling Chinese man and his headstrong black daughter who could swim better than the best of them. They listen as their mother reveals the secrets she held close all her life, including a murder that occurred on her own wedding day and secret of a long lost child, their sister.

Now the siblings are left with only one another to help them deal with this news. But they have more left of their mother than they realize. She is is them. She is in her childhood best friend. She is in the black cake left in the freezer for them to share when the time is right. And she is somewhere across the world in their newly discovered sister.

Black Cake is the perfect mystery novel for those who aren’t wanting a grueling or graphic “who done it”. Mrs. Eleanor Bennett herself is the mystery. Her children become the detectives who must piece their family’s history and future together. In this story readers are gifted with an incredibly interconnected story where all the loose ends will be tied together, everything will fold in on itself to create the most beautiful ending.

Wilkerson’s novel may be 400 pages long, but it doesn’t feel like it. Her prose is not lyrical, but it is real. It is easy to read. The author includes details where she needs to, with saltwater and island breezes and the taste of fermented plums. She leaves them out when they are not needed, especially in more horrific circumstances. The author says that omission has its place in writing too, and she could not be more correct.

Black Cake is my first Book of the Month Club pick for 2022 and I’m glad I selected it. It’s perfect for Black History Month and for pondering our own family histories and the people that make us who we are.

“You children need to know about your family, about where we come from, about how I really met your father. You two need to know about your sister.”

– Charmaine Wilkerson, “Black Cake”

Pros:

  • Every detail wraps up nicely. Every plot point has purpose and the book is excellently interconnected.
  • The main character is compelling and her story inspires empathy and courage.
  • This book will make you wonder more about the intersection of multicultural identities, as well how colonization both strips and builds identities.

Cons:

  • Some back and forth in the timeline at the end can be disjointed.
  • It took me until about half way through the book to really get a feel of the children as characters and to begin to like them.

Rating:

  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“But you didn’t just disappear for five decades and then go back as if nothing had happened. She wouldn’t go back, anyway, if she couldn’t take all three of her children with her. And after fifty years, Eleanor still had no idea where one of them was.”

– Charmaine Wilkerson, “Black Cake”

Recommended For:

  • those interested in multicultural identities
  • those wanting a good mystery without too much of a focus on “who done it”
  • those looking for compelling and strong characters
  • those looking for a book with family and not necessarily romance at its center

Books to Read if You Loved Black Cake:

Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)

  • Whose secrets are worth doing anything to keep?
  • What makes us who we are?
  • How do traditions and family heirlooms keep those we love but see no longer close to us?

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