Editorial note: I received a copy of Black Cake in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson is an epic story about family, traditions, secrets and forgiveness.
As usual, my TBR is out of control! Can anyone relate? But as much as I want to read as many books as possible each month, some books require more time to spend with. Black Cake is one of those novels, which is of the reasons I selected it as a must-read book club selection for 2022. (For more of my 2022 book club picks, check out my full list here).
Prior to Black Cake, I read The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan—a exceptional story that focused on motherhood. I took my time reading this one as well. While the novels are very different they share a couple things in common (and yes, one being that both of those are Read With Jenna Book Club selections) but also the writing for the novels are both vivid, insightful and impactful.
The premise for Black Cake is quiet in many ways and also quite fascinating. There’s a bit of a mystery too that will keep you guessing. I’m still thinking about all the different themes in this story.
What’s the Story About
Before she died, Eleanor Bennett left behind two key things for her two adult children, Byron and Benny: the traditional Caribbean black cake made from a family recipe and a voice recording. The cake is not surprising as it’s a big part of their upbringing but the recording is and on that, Eleanor reveals all her secrets.
There’s a murder. An escape. And a long-lost child. This challenges everything the siblings knew about both their parents, and also themselves.
The story is told both in present day California and also in the past as we experience Eleanor’s journey with her.
Family traditions and cultures are handed down throughout generations. While some traditions do fade over time, the one constant is always food. When you think about your own family heritage, how much of it revolves around food? From baking your Granny’s favorite pie to your dad’s famed meatballs (which came from his father, and his father, etc.), food is the constant that connects generations no matter how much time has passed.
I loved reading about the importance and significance of black cake to the Bennett family. The history to the family in particular is fascinating and also I just want to try some for myself! It made me think about recipes from my family that have been passed down as well (such as the meatballs I just referenced).
The novel presents food as a thread that connects family, which is something I think many people can relate to.
I keep these spoiler-free so I don’t want to reveal Eleanor’s secrets (other than what the publisher shared in the synopsis) but I wanted to touch on the fact that their mother finally shared the truth to her children. Byron and Benny had a wonderful upbringing and their parents put them in a great position to succeed. While Byron is thriving as a successful and famous biologist, Benny has been a bit lost trying to find her footing.
Still, they figured they knew their parents. They are who they are. So it’s quite shocking to realize that their mother held so many secrets—including her real name but most importantly, the fact they have another sister all along.
It’s thought-provoking as it makes you wonder how you would react if everything you thought you knew about your parents, are not exactly a full lie, but there are plenty of secrets that were withhold. How would you react?
Black Cake tackles identity and heritage. It’s also a lesson about growth and moving forward. It’s one of those big, family saga stories that will stick with you and makes you think. Highly recommend it! For book clubs, check out my discussion questions here.