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Review: Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Title: Black Cake
Author: Charmaine Wilkerson
Year published: 2022
Category: Adult fiction
Pages: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map)Jamaica, Italy, UK, and USA (CA, NY)

SummaryWe 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 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?
Review: As is typical for me, I chose this book from BOTM then promptly forgot what it was about before reading the book. Black Cake? Is that a real thing? A symbol of something? An idea? Yes, to all three.

Black cake reminds me of a British fruit cake. Dense, dark, lasts forever in the freezer. The Brits save a piece of their wedding fruit cake for a year then eat it on the first anniversary. In Jamaica the cake is for Christmas or weddings and the couple in this story saved the cake to eat a piece each year on their anniversary.

But really, the cake symbolizes family and that's what this novel is all about. Benny and Byron are struggling to like each other even though as children they were extremely close. This breaks my heart. It is through an audio recording made by their mother just before she died that they learn the family history, the relevance of black cake, and secrets that will bring them together.

It was difficult to like either Byron or Benny at first, but as the family's history unfolds and the reader learns more about the various generations, Byron and Benny begin to represent all that has come before them, the good and the bad. They learn how they fit into a larger picture, what their ancestors survived, how they thrived, and what it means to be part of some bigger than themselves. I found myself fully absorbed into the Bennett family's story.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Literary Escapes--Jamaica and Italy

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