Book Review: Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Posted February 1, 2022 by WendyW in Book Review / 18 Comments

Black Cake
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

by Charmaine Wilkerson
Publication Date March 1, 2022
Published by Ballantine Books
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Genres: Fiction / African American & Black / Historical, Fiction / Family Life / General, Fiction / Sagas
Pages: 381
Format: ARC

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.

My Review:

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson is a fascinating look at family dynamics with several mysteries that must be unraveled throughout the book.  This debut novel is beautifully written with gorgeous descriptions of the Caribbean islands. 

Benny and Byron Bennet have been estranged for many years, but their mother’s death brings them together as they meet up in California and learn about their Mother’s troubled, yet fascinating past.  They learn about her adventures, secrets, and lies, and together they have to come to terms with these secrets and the fallout that will change their lives forever. 

We also follow Elenor, Benny, and Byron’s mother, from a young island girl from the Caribbean to the UK and then on to the US where she starts her family.  Her life, and some of the difficult choices she had to make to stay alive, make an engrossing story that is difficult to put down.  

The book changes POV and timelines with short chapters that kept me engaged throughout the entire story.  I liked shifting between characters and timelines as it kept everything moving quickly.  The writing is beautiful, and the author handles sensitive topics and tough situations with care and compassion.  

I recommend this book to anyone who loves books about families and secrets.  I received a complimentary copy of this book.  The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Interesting tidbits:

  • In development as a Hulu original series produced by Marissa Jo Cerar, Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Films), and Kapital Entertainment
  • Charmaine Wilkerson’s Debut Novel

UK Cover:

About Charmaine Wilkerson

Charmaine Wilkerson is an American writer who has lived in the Caribbean and is based in Italy. She is a former journalist and recovered marathon runner whose award-winning short stories can be found in various UK and US anthologies and magazines. Black Cake (2022) will be her first novel.

18 responses to “Book Review: Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

  1. Great review Wendy. I was invited to read this one, but couldn’t fit it in, so I passed. Now I need to wait until my library gets it. I love stories about families.