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Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Contemporary fiction

Black Cake

BOTY FINALIST

Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to Black Cake!

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Charmaine Wilkerson, on your first book!

Early Release

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by Charmaine Wilkerson

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Quick take

Brimming with wisdom, a moving story of two siblings who wend their way to reconciliation after losing their mother.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Immigration

    Immigration

Synopsis

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.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Black Cake.
Black Cake

Prologue

Then 1965

He should have known it would come to this. He should have known the day that hak gwai wife of his ran away from home. Should have known the day he saw his daughter swimming in the bay as a storm bore down on her. Should have known when his parents dragged him to this island and changed their names. He stood at the water’s edge, now, watching the waves crash white against the rocks, waiting for his daughter’s body to wash ashore.

A policeman beckoned to him. The policeman was a girl. He’d never seen one of those before. She was holding a fluff of white fabric, his daughter’s wedding dress, smeared with black cake and lilac icing. She must have dropped the cake on herself as she jumped up from the table. He remembered a clattering of plates, the splintering of glass on the tile floor, someone crying out. When he looked toward his daughter, she was gone and her satin-covered shoes lay strewn on the lawn outside like tiny capsized boats.

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Why I love it

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.

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Member ratings (24,092)

  • Cheyenne S.

    Huntersville, NC

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ — I’m a sucker for a good black generational story. Since it’s mainly told from the perspective of the mother it made me think about how our parents have their own stories; before us.

  • Brielle D.

    Poway, CA

    I loved how this book had some mystery that I wasn’t really expecting! I feel like the book description doesn’t do it justice but I don’t know how else I would describe it without giving too much away

  • Keli R.

    Inglewood, CA

    I’m glad I got a chance to dive in. Covey’s love for the sea, her friendships, her children, and her story make such a beautifully woven story. Her pin is palpable and poetic. Hulu series here I come!

  • Tambudzai N.

    Omaha, NE

    It’s so good! I literally couldn’t put it down. I loved the brief chapters, each one unraveling a little more of the mystery. It kept me engaged! Very rich, bittersweet, beautiful story. What a debut!

  • Jessica B.

    Lakeville, MN

    This book has SO much story packed into it, but it is told in such a subtle and gentle way that you don’t even realize it’s depth until you reach the end. Amazing character development. Two thumbs up

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