Brimming with wisdom, a moving story of two siblings who wend their way to reconciliation after losing their mother.
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Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
Sometimes a novelist introduces me to a character so vibrant and unique that encountering a mere slice of their life will not do. Instead as a reader I practically beg for every detail of their life—beginning to end. Such is the case with Black Cake, a book so moving and skillfully constructed, it’s easy to forget that it is Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut.
Black Cake at its core is the story of Eleanor Bennett as related to her children, estranged siblings Byron and Benny. But Eleanor’s story comes in a strange package: a voice recording, left to her children upon her death. As the tape plays, what unfolds is the story of an extraordinary life. Island dreams and family rupture. Lost friendship and found identity. As Byron and Benny hear their mother’s tales for the first time, they discover not only who Eleanor was, but how they’ve come to their current places in the world—and how they might thaw the coldness that had grown between them.
I was enchanted from the very first page by this intergenerational novel of family, friendship, and love. With a sure hand and great care, this big-hearted novel outlines the many ways we can come unglued from those we hold dearest. But also, if we are lucky, find our way back to each other.
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.