Reviews of Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake

A Novel

by Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson X
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
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  • Published:
    Feb 2022, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

In this moving debut novel, two estranged siblings must set aside their differences to deal with their mother's death and her hidden past - a journey of discovery that takes them from the Caribbean to London to California and ends with her famous black cake.

We can't choose what we inherit. But can we choose who we become?

In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett's death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child, challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage, and themselves.

Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor's true history, and fulfill her final request to "share the black cake when the time is right"? Will their mother's revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?

Charmaine Wilkerson's debut novel is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names, can shape relationships and history. Deeply evocative and beautifully written, Black Cake is an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch.

Now

2018

She's here.

Byron hears the elevator doors peel open. His first instinct is to rush toward his sister and embrace her. But when Benny leans in to hug him, Byron pushes her away, then turns to knock on the door to the attorney's office. He feels Benny put a hand on his arm. He shakes it free. Benny stands there, her mouth open, but says nothing. And what right does she have to say anything? Byron hasn't seen Benny in eight years. And, now, their ma is gone for good.

What does Benny expect? She took a family argument and turned it into a cold war. Never mind all that talk about societal rejection and discrimination and whatnot. It seems to Byron that whatever kind of problem you have in this world, you can find someone to show you understanding. And times are changing. There's even been a study in the news recently about people like Benny.

People like Benny.

The study says it can be a lonely road for people like her. But she won't be getting any sympathy from Byron, no. Benedetta ...

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Reviews

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Both plotlines are absorbing and well-written. Eleanor's is fast-paced and unpredictable, propelling the story along at a good clip, but I was particularly drawn to the narrative involving her children. I found their interactions especially realistic; neither understands the other's point of view, and they each blame the other for the rift that's occurred. They long for reconciliation, but each is angry, feeling they're owed an apology that never comes. Both stories ask whether it's possible to truly know another person, and contemplate the risk we take when we show others our true selves. These themes struck a deep chord with me...continued

Full Review Members Only (594 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Glamour
A thrilling debut novel about sibling ties and hidden family history.

Time
Black Cake is a character-driven, multigenerational story that's meant to be savored... . thought-provoking and poignant.

Vogue (UK)
Wilkerson explores the nuances of racial identity and betrayal in a powerful novel.

Booklist (starred review)
A beautifully poignant debut novel...Wilkerson uses one Caribbean American family's extraordinary tale to probe universal issues of identity and how the lives we live and the choices we make leave 'a trail of potential consequences' that pass down through generations. Memorable, fully developed characters ground a story that spans decades and continents.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Wilkerson debuts with a shining family saga that stretches from the 1960s Caribbean to present-day Southern California....Wilkerson offers superb descriptions of Covey's homeland, from the tension between those who speak patois and those who believe in the superiority of standard English, to sensual descriptions of food, surfing, and coastal terrain. Readers will adore this highly accomplished effort from a talented new writer.

Author Blurb Mary Beth Keane, New York Times bestselling author of Ask Again, Yes
I was instantly taken in by this multigenerational tale of identity, family, and the lifelong push and pull of home. This novel has a tremendous heart at its center, and I felt its beat on every page. What an extraordinary debut.

Author Blurb Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Malibu Rising
Black Cake is a beautiful, deeply resonant story of children trying to understand the mother they have lost. Charmaine Wilkerson transports you across the decades and the globe accompanied by complex, wonderfully drawn characters. She has managed to tell a story that is as meaningful as it is delicious. At turns delightfully juicy and then stunningly wise, Black Cake is a winner.

Reader Reviews

PhyllisE

Skillfully plotted and beautifully written
Thanks to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine Books & NetGalley for a digital advance reader's copy. All comments and opinions are my own. This debut was definitely in the "amazing" category and worth all of its 5 stars! It's ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mapping the Ocean Floor

Image of NOAA ship showing the fan-shaped range for collecting multibeam sonar data In Charmaine Wilkerson's novel Black Cake, one of the main characters has made a career as an oceanographer, concentrating on mapping the ocean floor.

Water covers about 70% of the Earth's surface. And yet surprisingly little is known about what lies beneath it; just a little over 20% of the seabed had been mapped as of 2021. It's long been understood that being aware of the shape of the sea floor, particularly near a coast, is helpful for navigation, and this knowledge has become critical for laying underwater cables and pipelines as well. Understanding the shape of the land beneath the ocean's surface can also be useful for predicting hazards such as tsunamis as well as climate change projections. It can additionally be helpful for...

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