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Black Cake

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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 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.

385 pages, Hardcover

First published February 1, 2022

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About the author

Charmaine Wilkerson

4 books1,205 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 12,040 reviews
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,068 reviews2,669 followers
February 1, 2022
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

I really liked the way Black Cake began. Eleanor Bennett has died and she has left an eight hour audio recording to be heard by her grown children, in the presence of each other and her lawyer. Son Byron has a successful career while daughter Benny dropped out college long ago and doesn't have a clear picture of what she wants to do with her life. Now their mom is going to tell them everything about her past, via this audio recording.

We are taken back to an island in the Caribbean, where we meet a young girl named Covey. Her mom left Covey and her dad years ago and has never returned. Covey's dad drinks, gambles, and more and her life is not secure. What makes Covey happy is swimming in the ocean, her best friend, Bunny, and her boyfriend, Gibbs. She and Gibbs plan to escape the island and attend college in London, once each of them graduates high school.

We get bits of Covey's story and the story of Byron and Benny, interspersed with Eleanor's recording. But then more and more gets added into the story, a kind of throw everything in but the kitchen sink approach. Eventually there are too many characters, too many POVs, too many shifts in timeline, the feeling that there is a checklist of social issues to hit, and some extremely short chapters that chop the story into more pieces. Byron and Benny, for all the advantages they had growing up, or maybe because of all the advantage they had growing up, are very immature and selfish. Byron, with the successful career, is hampered in his personal life by a lack of ability or willingness to communicate. Benny, who lets impulsiveness rule her life, is her own worst enemy. I thought I was going to care about the characters and I did like the parents of Byron and Benny but the story becomes diluted by too much of everything.

Publication: February 1st 2022

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and NetGalley for this ARC.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,132 reviews39.3k followers
February 18, 2023
Oh my! I fell in with the beauty of this writing! I fell so hard! Family issues, resentments, cultural diaspora, regrets, resentments, sexuality, freedom, child abandonment, secrets, lies, sibling bonds, motherhood, racism, interracial marriage, identity theft, climate change, environmental protection, islander life, secret recipe of black cake… Wow! I feel so dizzy! This book approaches so many sensitive issues, which were handled adroitly with care without targeting to give us full bombardment of messages.

The writing was lyrical, impeccable, sensitive, all of the characters were so easy to care for. Benny the daughter, Covey/ Eleanor the mother, Bunny the best friend, Marble the other daughter, Pearl the care taker were memorable characters broke my heart! I cried a lot when I read their struggles, their fights, misunderstandings and I absolutely got impressed with their power, resilience!

I haven’t read something so good so intense so heartbreaking so powerful for a long time!

I think Black Cake is gonna be not only my favorite fiction read for 2022 but also is gonna be one of my all time favorite books! If I could give more than five stars, I would like to give it 10! It truly deserved it!

Here’s my favorite quote: RIDE THE WAVE!
"This is what I would like to be able to say to you folks, that in life, you should just catch
the wave and ride it. But what if you don't see any good waves coming your way? You need
to go looking. Don't stop looking, all right?”

I’m so thankful to NetGalley and Random House Publishing/ Ballantine Books for sharing this digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest opinions.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Taylor Reid.
Author 22 books136k followers
January 20, 2022
Black Cake follows siblings Byron and Benny as they try to understand the mother they have lost. You’ll be transported across decades and the globe as long-buried secrets of their family are revealed. Delightfully juicy and stunningly wise, Black Cake is a winner.
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
389 reviews3,173 followers
February 22, 2023
Eleanor Bennett has died, and her two children are collected together to listen to her final recording. Eleanor has a desire for her children to share a black cake when the moment is right. What secrets will Eleanor reveal in her recording?

This book was in need of a bit of fine tuning. I did enjoy the multiple POV's and multiple timelines with short chapters. The other element that I found really enjoyable was the focus on food, recipes that can transform a person back to a different time and place (I'm already thinking of green bean casserole...yum!). We are left with a clean ending with all of our questions answered.

On the other hand, this book was trying to cover too many topics. It went wide instead of deep. In the section About the Author, it mentions that Charmaine Wilkerson is a former journalist. That would explain it. Journalism and novel writing are two completely different arts. Journalism is more fact driven while novels are designed to stir the feelings (well at least good ones). One of the key topics in Black Cake was recently covered in another book that I read, and I thought that the other book was better. It took a bit of time for Black Cake to pick up steam, and there were way, WAY too many B names: Byron, Bert, Benny, Bunny, Bennett. How exactly is a reader supposed to keep all of these names straight? The use of foreshadowing was also too heavy because I could foresee each and every reveal. The characters would always explain their thoughts, not very subtly, and would repeat their thoughts several times. This I would have edited down. As a reader, I want something to ponder, but this was spoon fed a little too much.

Overall, this was an interesting book once it took off.

*Thanks, NetGalley, for a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

2023 Reading Schedule
Jan Alice in Wonderland
Feb Notes from a Small Island
Mar Cloud Atlas
Apr On the Road
May The Color Purple
Jun Bleak House
Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary
Aug Anna Karenina
Sep The Secret History
Oct Brave New World
Nov A Confederacy of Dunces
Dec The Count of Monte Cristo

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Profile Image for JanB .
1,128 reviews2,296 followers
February 18, 2022
Siblings Benny and Byron, estranged for years, fulfill their mother’s last wishes by meeting to listen to an audio recording of their mother telling her life story, including the secrets she held onto for decades. It was quite the story she tells, starting with her life on an unnamed island in the Caribbean, how she ended up in England, and finally the U.S. I was totally invested as the story moved between the past and the present, although the multiple alternating timelines/characte became confusing, even more so as the story progressed.

I enjoy stories with well-developed characters and plots that deal with sensitive and thought-provoking issues. I understand the author wanted to highlight how people’s lives have been defined by violence, secrets, sacrifice, and prejudice. I appreciated the meaning behind the cultural significance of food and a recipe handed down for generations.

But yet….

There are books with characters who have issues that are woven organically and subtly into the plot. And then there are issue books. Unfortunately, this one reads like the latter. Multiple coincidences drive the plot forward and the author indulges in the “kitchen sink” style of storytelling, with every possible social issue thrown in for dramatic effect, bordering on the ridiculous and causing some eye-rolling from this reader. I don’t enjoy the heavy-handed approach, which keeps me from becoming invested in a story or caring about the characters.

This was a debut that Marialyce and I looked forward to reading, but it left both of us disappointed. Once again, there are plenty of glowing reviews so do please check them out.

*I received a digital copy for review from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
* Publication Date February 1, 2022 by Ballantine Books
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
781 reviews5,390 followers
December 6, 2022
I owe it to you to let you know about my past because this is your story, too.

Identity is a complex amalgamation, a mixture and intersection of family lineage, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and more. A mixture not unlike a recipe for food, a metaphor that deliciously entwines the story and characters in Black Cake, the debut novel by Charmaine Wilkerson. An estranged brother and sister arrive for their mother’s funeral, only to discover she has left them a lengthy recording that upends everything they know about their family. Wilkerson’s many layered and endlessly twisting novel directly confronts ideas of identity as these siblings have their foundation pulled out from under them and must reassess everything they know about the Bennet family and, in turn, themselves. This book is packed with ideas, and while it occasionally feels a bit overstuffed the fast moving pace keeps you page turning as lives twist and history unravels itself into the present. Moving across multiple decades and continents, Wilkerson’s stunning debut is a smart and heartfelt investigation of family, culture, generational divides and the ways our identities coalesce ‘through a mixing of traditions, a mixing of fates, a mixing of stories.

They’ve lost their mother and they can’t seem to find their way back to each other.

Byron and Benny Bennet—yes, there are a lot of B names in this—haven’t spoken since Benny fled a family gathering years previous and never showed at their father’s funeral. Their mother, Eleanor, had always wanted to tell them the truth about her life, but with the family fractured she never found the time until it was too late, leaving instead a long recording that begins with telling her children they have a sister they’ve never met and a story of a girl named Covey living in the Caribbean in the 1960s. This book is a wild ride, with potential murder, lives forever altered multiple times, aliases, secrets, and much, much more. Yet at the center of it all is black cake, a recipe central to the Bennet family from their mother’s childhood on the island and a symbol of blending culture, stories and lives. And a final request that her children eat a black cake she left them when the time is right. But as they are shaken from each revelation that also reopens old wounds, will that time ever come? And who was Eleanor really?

More people’s lives have been shaped by violence than we like to think. And more people’s lives have been shaped by silence than we think.

Wilkerson impressively juggles a lot here, rotating between the past and present in brief chapters that, while written entirely in third person, spirals through the characters to reframe on their specific lives, emotions and thoughts. The style gives each character their individualism while also weaving them together to view each individual as connected through the community of their shared lives. ‘Like many people, he isn’t any one thing,’ Wilkerson writes of Byron, but this sentiment is universal for each character and as the story progresses we see just how true this is.
But the fact was, when you lived a life, under any name, that life became entwined with others’. You left a trail of potential consequences. You were never just you, and you owed it to the people you cared about to remember that.

As we watch Covey run from her past and reconfigure her life and identity&mash;shaped in the forges of violence, chance and a society that creates barriers for women of color—we also see how many people become connected to her story and can be affected by it. While this initially includes those who helped her escape and could come under the literal gun of the crime family surrounding the death of her forced marriage it becomes more solidified when she has children and extends her lineage. But what is key is the notion we are all connected, and each individual life reverberates against all the rest in the great orchestra of humanity where one wrong turn or sudden tragedy can sound the discordant note that derails the whole.

Wilkerson attempts a further examination of connectivity by demonstrating lineage and heritage not only of familiar links, but as occupants of the earth and members of the long history of humanity. ‘Everything is connected to everything else, if you only go far enough back in time,’ she writes, in an omniscient narration that sometimes dips too close to being its own personality without grounding into the narrative itself. It works in theory but the practice of it in the text is a bit rushed and feels like a tacked on aftereffect used too sporadically. A chapter will open with telling of how things were, say, hundreds of years ago and then connect it to the actions of a character, told without familiarity before returning to the normal narration style. I like the point being made, though it is a bit jarring and seems more like a transition crutch than a natural part of the narrative but overall it serves the theme of connectivity and heritage well. Particularly in the sense of generational trauma, as metaphored (spell check tells me this is not a real word but I’m coining it now so feel free to normalize it) in a scene with the character Elly cutting her foot on an ancient gate buried in the sand, which fills into a larger theme of how best intentions can come across as hurt later on.

Which is an aspect of the novel I really appreciate, as it juxtaposes generational perspectives and how the disconnect chafes on either party. The siblings begin the novel processing their mother’s story as one of betrayal for keeping secrets, while we recognize that her and her husband view secret keeping as an act of mercy and to protect those closest to them. And this older generation that sees value in secrets is shown as being appalled by the younger generation that puts their entire lives in the public eye through social media, fearful that so much openness leaves them vulnerable to harm. To them, their actions are one of protection but are seen by the younger generation as rejection. Benny’s narrative positions her sense of identity into the crosshairs of this clash, with her dad mistaking her bisexuality as mere confusion instead of accepting it as an aspect of her selfhood. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the novel, having been a similar recipient of the criticism and frustrated by the avoidance that insisting someone’s identity is mere confusion makes you internalize shame and have a hard time trusting yourself.

She had been part of the world forever and always would be.

There is a rich irony here, because so much of each character’s journey is making peace with being a complex self, and while so much of life is affected by ‘the way people saw them and how it determined the roles that they were expected to play in life,’ they find their sense of self doesn’t fit into tidy, socially-prescribed boxes. Each character discovers they are ‘a dual entity, a sort of hybrid’, being too much the same aspects that they are not enough of and feeling alienated because of it.
But just when she’d thought that her world was expanding beyond the suffocation of adolescence and into a new environment, she found that the boxes into which she was expected to fit—whether for race, sexual orientation, or politics—seemed to be making her world narrower.

Covey is a black woman with a Chinese father, for example, living in a culture that has absorbed aspects of colonization into itself. ‘they belonged, first, to the hills and caverns and shores of the island where they had grown up,’ Wilkerson writes about Covey and her friend in London, Elly, ‘but they also felt that they were part of the culture that had influenced so many aspects of their daily lives.

We cannot always saw at which point one culture ends and another begins, especially in the kitchen.

The way colonialism intersects with traditional culture becomes a major theme in Black Cake, best demonstrated in the titular food itself. As noted early on, black cake has roots outside the island, but has transformed into a specific cultural artifact of the island. There are some really great foodie aspects to this book, especially when Wilkerson addresses food ethics and culture through the character of tv food expert, Marble. ‘if you talk about the way in which food moves around the world,’ she say when facing criticism for addressing these issues, ‘ you can’t help but mention the social, economic, and political facts behind it. It doesn’t mean I’m engaging in political commentary.’ Her aim isn’t to judge but to examine the ways food has a complex heritage, which is mirrored in the realizations of lineage in the primary characters who can trace their roots across social, racial, and political “borders”. ‘The diaspora of food, just like the diaspora of people, has helped to shape many cultural traditions,’ Marble says, drawing the direct line between the two. Over time things change, adapt, become part of something else while still retaining what they once were and always will be. This, too, is mirrored in the many transformations seen in the book and the many characters who have a different name in different stages of their life, such as the childhood Bunny later being swimming icon Etta Pringles.

Black Cake branches into many applications of this idea to examine it from a multitude of angles. It also makes sure to call-out social issues that would inform up the character’s lives. The book does seem to overextend itself in acknowledging all these topics, but one might wish it would pause in order to better explore them. There is something to be said about honing in to make sure to say one or two things really well rather than saying a lot at a surface level (a few do feel a bit shoe-horned in). However, Wilkerson somehow manages to make her maximization of social critique quite enjoyable as they are folded into the larger narrative in a way that makes us realize they are important to recognize but, as Byron says, ‘I’m not going to get into all of that here, that’s a whole other story. ’The most successful address very in-the-moment issues in context of the themes and with the shadow of the past cast across them. ‘Trying to undo worry is like trying to undo his blackness,’ Wilkerson writes about Byron, and his racial identity is an active role on his path through society, particularly in the face of authority such as the workplace or law enforcement.

'This is who they have always been, an African American family of Caribbean origin, a clan of untold stories and half-charted cultures.'

This is a soaringly good debut that should very well be a big book of the year. As a debut this has some mechanical hiccups and a few stylistic choices that didn’t always work, as well as seeming a bit overly long as the latter portion of the novel was overly concerned with putting a tidy, satisfying bow on every loose end. That said, honestly, I love it all. This was such an engaging book with a fast pace that made it nearly impossible to. A few nitpicks aside, Wilkerson takes a purpose in her sights and hits the target dead on which makes the occasionally rough flight path all good by achieving its goal so well. Black Cake is a really heartfelt book that tackles some difficult subjects and does so by successfully orchestrating the reader’s emotions along with the story. This is a beautiful tale about family and one that will certainly find it’s way into your heart.


The people you loved were part of your identity, too. Perhaps the biggest part.
Profile Image for Whitney Erwin.
190 reviews
June 6, 2022
Reading other reviews of the book so far, I am the odd one out. I had high hopes and thought I was going to love this one based on the description and others reviews but it was just okay for me at best. The storyline seemed to drag out at spots, and I would find myself bored. The book felt like it jumped all over the place which made it hard for me to keep interested in it. The chapters being told in different timelines and by different characters just didn’t work well for this book. I didn’t love the characters, especially the mother who I just felt was all around very deceitful. This book just wasn’t for me!

Thank you Net Galley and Random House- Ballantine books for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,962 reviews2,411 followers
February 3, 2022
Like the cake named in the title, this is a book meant to be savored. Benny and Byron were once inseparable as children. But Benny suffered a rift with her family 8 years ago. Now, her mother is dead and she returns home. As their mother’s lawyer thinks “They’ve lost their mother and they can’t seem to find their way back to one another.” The lawyer also has a recording their mother has left, one that speaks to her secret past.
The siblings are about as different as can be. Byron is a media darling, an oceanographer. He reminds me a little of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Benny, on the other hand, is still trying to find herself at age 37. She’s bisexual, an artist, looking to open a coffeehouse.
The story of the siblings is interspersed with their mother’s story.
This book demands that you pay attention. At the beginning, it can feel confusing. But stick with it, as things do become clear. The sections about her mother’s past also include segments containing others’ thoughts, like Bunny, her father and Gibbs.
The story is about loss, about the decisions we make that we can never take back, the sacrifices we are forced to make. It’s a reminder that sometimes our stubbornness gets in the way of a happy life. But it’s also about being a survivor. It’s a powerful, moving story on a personal level. But it’s also an important story on a universal level as Wilkerson writes about racial identity and what it means to be black in America.
One of the best books I’ve read this year.
My thanks to Netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Marialyce (absltmom, yaya).
1,938 reviews722 followers
February 8, 2022
Books can start off with a very strong story line and make it seem like the reader has come upon a five star read. However, in the book Black Cake, I descended down a road to where I was bored, confused, and wondering why the author felt she had to include every possible politically correct issue. Are social issues important? Indeed they are, but this compulsion of so many authors to included as many as they can into their story, often interrupts the point and poignancy of the story.

It made me sad that what would have been a fabulous story of family, ancestry, and the generational aspirations became mired in the miasma of beating the reader over the head. I loved the idea of food, in this case, Black Cake being a focus of the generations. We all have a particular food that always inspires us to look back in time, and pass it onto our children and grandchildren. I wish the story had concentrated more on that aspect, as it creates such memories in us all.

Added to this were many instances depicted that were beyond coincidence, (the I can't believe this could happen again and again and again moments) plus the name changes were confusing, and the story structure of flipping back and forth between characters was uneven and jarring.

I feel a sense of loss seeing what started out as a fine story become staid and filled with the jargon of the time.

Jan and I had great hopes for this book but both of us were let down and hugely disappointed. Many thanks to Jan for another great discussion of a book that had initially so much allure.

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and Netgalley for a copy of this story
December 12, 2022
**Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House-Ballantine, and Charmaine Wilkerson for an ARC of this book! Now available as of 2.1, and now in paperback!**

Black Cake is a cake full to bursting with fruits, soaked in rum, and browned with sugar (hence the name.)

Sounds delicious, right?

Well, much like a first attempt at a new recipe that JUST misses the mark...Black Cake had all the promise and potential of a five-star delight...but couldn't quite get the blend right.

Benny and Byron used to be attached at the proverbial hip, brother and sister who happily did everything together. Time and circumstance have led them away from one another, as Benny's life choices (from the personal to her career choice) have left her a bit ostracized from the family. Byron has taken the 'right' path, but still has so many questions about the past, his mother, and how life has led him to this place.

When their mother passes away, both children are summoned to listen to their mother one last time---via audio recording. What they don't expect to find is not a breakdown of assets, or a traditional will, but that their mother was holding secrets—life-altering secrets—and has chosen to finally share them now. As her tales unfold, Benny and Byron are transported back in time, and a shocking series of events leaves them both reeling. This is not your typical inheritance---and Benny and Byron have choices to make. Will the interesting and unexpected turns of fate bring them closer together, once and for all? Or will their mother's stunning revelations prove once and for all that the past is MEANT to stay buried?

Black Cake is, if nothing else, a lesson in Identity: what it means to be who you are, how heritage can either define you or hold you captive, and how place and opportunity can shape your destiny. At first, I was deeply wound into Benny and Byron's story, and was intrigued by these narrators and their differing perspectives. The premise was sound, and I thought by story's end I would have a firm sense of WHO these two were and who they could become down the line. At first, the book felt balanced: we got small glimpses into mother Eleanor's life without losing hold of the present-day narrative.

As time went on, however, the central theme of the story became more and more divergent, as character after character was introduced, new locations and complications arose, and the book started to lose focus---and lose my attention. The dramatic 'twists' became a bit repetitive, and there was a heavy emphasis on certain themes such as abuse, without any true conclusion. Much like in Of Women and Salt, the moment I started to connect to a new character's story line, we jumped to another point in time, a new location, or back to present day, and it left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.

Sometimes, you can also tell a lot from an author's note, and it was clear here that Wilkerson did her research about the time periods, cultures, and professions she explores in the book. Her final words alone confirm that Wilkerson is a strong and gifted writer, and that if the execution of this one had been a bit tighter and a bit cleaner, the emotions could have taken center stage and carried the novel.

While the novel's through line is purported to be solely Eleanor's recipe for cake, this book touched on so many other deep themes, without quite giving any of them the depth they needed to sing. I have every confidence this author has more intricate and interesting stories to tell, so I look forward to seeing what she writes in the future---when she hopefully gives her ideas just a LITTLE bit longer to bake.

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 based on the author's note alone

Review also posted at alternativelytitled.wordpress.com/202...

Nominated for Best Debut and Best Historical Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards!
Profile Image for elisa.
187 reviews1,180 followers
April 13, 2022
no one is more disappointed to have to give this rating than i am—particularly because the first few chapters of black cake had me convinced that i'd picked up a 4/5-star read.

this is one of those instances where i feel compelled to be completely honest about how little i enjoyed the actual, physical act of slogging my way through this narrative. so, to be totally transparent, most of this review is based on my gut reaction to what i feel is a glaring lack of technical skill. with black cake, the heart was there, the premise was right up my alley (i love multi-generational family sagas that volley between past and present, especially sagas interested in interrogating race + class), and i initially really liked the two narrators, benny and byron, and their alternating perspectives.

but black cake suffers the effects of a debut novel without a(n invested) helping hand to guide it. i don't know what the hell is going on over at penguin books, but their editors are clearly sleeping on the job.

to illustrate my point, i'm going to give a little list of what didn't work for me (all signs of a lack of technical skill + a need for stronger, more invested editors)
• charmaine wilkerson's prose leaves a lot to be desired. the language is clean and uncomplicated, which for some readers really enhances a story; many need invisible prose to fully immerse themselves in new worlds. i'm unfortunately not one of those people. i prefer to sink my teeth into complex prose that feels intensive and experimental, i love (and live for) detail and distinct character voices, and in the case of black cake, there was nothing to grab onto and chew. the prose is cotton candy that immediately disintegrates on the tongue. to be more clear, wilkerson's writing is simplistic to the point of dullness and prone to cheesy repetition, foreshadowing, and abortive scene-writing. on the topic of repetition, we have habitual, nursery rhyme-like narration such as the following:

Covey and Gibbs, holding hands down by the breakers. Covey and Gibbs, kissing in the hollow of a sea cave. Covey and Gibbs, clinging and probing and whispering promises.

ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! this piece of criticism is mostly a difference in (subjective/artistic) opinion, and many enjoy this sort of writing, but i, personally, despise it. i understand going for a few repetition style points, but the amount of repeating sentences/phrases (in groups of 3's) used throughout this novel started to feel really juvenile.
• this leads me into pacing. multi-generational sagas are already difficult to tackle in terms of temporality/chronology, even without a rotating cast of (something like) 10+ narrators. if you've read my reviews before, you know how much i dislike slipshod head-jumping. well, here we are again 🙄 if you're going to cycle between characters, i need to know that you're not doing so primarily for plot convenience. i need the POV switches to serve a creative purpose. i need the selected cast of narrators to feel full-fledged rather than throwaway. and, above all else, i need authors to stop with the tiny one- to two-page chapters for quick little "hi! bye!" interludes. the malibu rising's of the literary world need to be vanquished. black cake's pacing is a complete mess as a result of the constant abbreviated chapters and the 10+ characters (scattered across time and space) who we're leaping between. there's never enough time to settle in with a character and get to know them through narration/interaction because wilkerson relies so heavily on what i call the time-lapse trope.
• the "time-lapse trope" is not so much a trope as it is the lazy author's way out (through a stylistic narration choice). i'll give you an example of what this looks like:

Benny talks. She tells Byron about being bullied in college. She tells him about Steve. [...] They argued. Benny yelled. Steve hit her. Said he was sorry, begged her not to leave.

do you see how wilkerson speeds past any actual legwork she'd have to do to thoughtfully communicate these ideas? instead of actually writing a full-bodied interaction with dialogue and explanation, she employs near-constant hand-waving to quickly advance the plot—even on micro levels. this is nonstop throughout the 380+ page book. one minute, we've just been dealt a devastating emotional revelation. the next, we're catapulting past any fallout so we can quickly land on a convenient little wrap-up. it's hard to say whether i hate head-jumping or time-lapse narration more. both are equally infuriating to me and both were constant and unavoidable here (so you can imagine how frustrating this reading experience was).
• in addition to the time-lapsed narration, wilkerson leans on plot convenience to tie up loose ends and/or force things to make sense. characters aren't allowed to struggle. they are not permitted ambiguity. they don't get to learn their lessons the hard way. somehow, suddenly, inevitably, they know the right answer, connect the dots right in the nick of time, avoid catastrophe through complete "coincidence" (read: authorial manipulation), recognize a stranger as their blood relation as soon as they lay eyes on them over and over again—just 'cause. just 'cause it's easiest. just 'cause it makes the most sense. just 'cause "convenience as a narrative crutch" is far less work than actually sitting down and trying to thread a conflict-driven plot together.
• of the 10+ narrators, NONE HAVE ANY PERSONALITY!!!!!!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! they are all—every single one—flat, boring, superficial stand-ins for emotional revelations that readers are forcibly shoved into face-first. do you know what would have helped to flesh these characters out?
• SOME ACTUAL DIALOGUE. there is little to no dialogue in black cake. like i said, wilkerson's chapters are tiny, abridged summaries of a series of life events that readers feel in no way compelled to care about—because there's no actual character interaction occurring. and when character interaction does, on rare occasions, crop up, it is so microscopic, so quickly cut short, so lacking in complexity or personality, that any lasting impact immediately dissolves. my impression of these people is that they're extremely boring and only require a handful of sentences to either ruin a dynamic or wrap it up with a nice, tidy bow (so we know that everything is a-okay and there's no further estrangement to worry over)!
• the debate over "showing vs telling" in literary circles is one that is heavily steered by western genre conventions that have for centuries worked to undermine anything different or nonwhite—no doubt about it. in many cases, telling over showing can work miracles and enliven a story in strange, unexpected ways (i'm thinking of k-ming chang's bestiary, where the constant narrative compulsion to info-dump family history or speed through crazy life events from the past is gorgeous, engaging, and even emotionally affecting). here, the compulsion to tell rather than show made me want to fling my book at a wall. if i were to hazard a guess, i would say this is probably because of wilkerson's flat prose, artificial characters, and tendency to time-lapse through crucial plot events. if you're going to tell, you have to be tactful about it, you have to go in with intent, and you should probably above all else prioritize your prose so you don't bore your readers to tears.
• wilkerson does note that this narrative is meant to be fable-like in her author's note, so this bullet point isn't entirely a critique (as the choice was on some level intended), but the amount of allegorical commentary delivered to readers through these characters is actually wild. and lazy. and overdone. it waters down an otherwise complex family history rife with sociopolitical meaning. wilkerson needs to trust that her readers can interrogate this meaning on their own, without her explicitly spelling out life lessons like, "WE MUST PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT OR IT WILL DIE!!!!!!!!!!" please have more faith in your audience. let your work be complicated without trying to hand us pretty political maxims. it only serves to make an already surface-level narrative even shallower.
• small, nitpicky note: when you have two well-acquainted characters talking to each other, it will never sound natural to have them address each other by name over and over again. this kind of speech pattern rarely happens in real life. one or two name addresses, okay, i can cut you some slack, i can close my eyes, i can look the other way. two characters are standing and staring at each other, they're maybe a little heated, they're trying to underscore their point. well......over the course of one interaction between byron and benny, they address each other by name sixteen (16) times. sixteen. @ PENGUIN EDITORS: WHAT ARE U DOING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
• the amount of filler in this book. oh my god. black cake could have been cut in half. narrowed down to a smaller pool of key scenes, told strictly through three pairs of eyes (benny, byron, and covey). those key scenes could then be extended + complicated + edited. prose sharpened. pacing honed. more dialogue implemented. but no. i am doomed to live a life of phantom editing when i'm reading books.

in some cases, a book checks all of your mood/aesthetic/thematic boxes, but its delivery is an unending train wreck. this is one of those cases. too much technical rage. i need to go lie down and recover.
Profile Image for Kerrin .
282 reviews231 followers
January 27, 2022
Black Cake is the debut novel of Charmaine Wilkerson. The story begins with siblings Bryon and Benedetta (Benny) Bennett meeting with their mother’s estate attorney. The two siblings haven’t spoken to each other for eight years when Benny felt rejected after revealing to her family that she was a lesbian. She did not return six years ago when her father died but has come back for her mother’s funeral. The siblings learn that their mother, Eleanor, has left them an eight-hour video to tell the two children the surprising real history of their parents. She has also left a frozen black cake for them to share when the time is right. The black cake is a rum-soaked fruit cake made from a beloved family recipe.

The video introduces a large cast of characters from Eleanor’s past, beginning with her life on an unnamed Caribbean island, traveling to London, Scotland, and eventually Southern California. There is also background information on Bryon and Benny, neither of whom seem to be able to form happy relationships.

With some restraint, it could have been a really good story. Because the author decided to cover a plethora of social issues, including an arranged marriage, parental abandonment, workplace rape, police brutality against blacks, gambling, racial and gay discrimination, forced adoption, domestic abuse, and protection of the ocean, the story seemed weighed down at times. If she had just focused on the concepts of home, identity, family secrets, second chances, and fewer social issues, I would have enjoyed it much more. Many of the chapters are short and out of order chronologically, giving the story a disjointed feeling. On the positive side, I enjoyed the historical aspects of island life and the emphasis on the importance of food and traditions. The book asks important questions about racial identity and what someone would be willing to do in the name of love.

3-stars. Thank you to Kathleen Q at Penguin Random House for my widget! The novel will be published on February 1, 2022, by Ballantine Books.
Profile Image for Thomas.
712 reviews172 followers
January 18, 2022
This was a very slow read-- 15 days for me. I rate it 3.5 stars rounded up. It is the story of "Covey' Coventina Lyncook, born on an unnamed Caribbean island. Her father gets into major debt to a loan shark and agrees to marry her in order to pay off his debt. But Covey doesn't want to marry him. How she escapes and her subsequent life of hardship,pain and determination to survive is told in flashbacks, between the present day and her travels to Britain and then the US. There is no graphic violence. But there is a rape, not graphically described. The racism encountered by the characters in the book is also described. The descriptions of life on the island were very interesting.
There is a central theme of baking the traditional Caribbean "Black Cake."
Two quotes:
On life "The oceans are a challenge, Mitch thinks. And what about a person's life? How do you make a map of that? The borders people draw between themselves. The scars left along the ground of one's heart."
Swimmers: "If Covey moved like a dolphin, then Bunny was like one those giant turtles you heard about that were capable of crossing the world without losing their way."
Thanks to the author and Ballantine Books for sending me this eARC through NetGalley.
#BlackCake #NetGalley.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,194 reviews1,245 followers
October 27, 2021
We are all little bits granulated from far, far bigger bits.

Charmaine Wilkerson creates a tale so far-reaching that we have to almost give pause after each chapter. Wilkerson is a storyteller blessed with the ability to go deep, so deep that we can almost hear the breathlessness of her characters and feel their angst and sorrow as if it were our own.

Black Cake begins with an ending. Eleanor Bennett has passed away in California and her friend and lawyer, Charles Martin, has requested the presence of her children, Byron and Benny. Eleanor has left a video for them to view that contains roadways traveled by Eleanor and unbeknownst even to her own children. She felt it was time. But time had been cruel in so many ways to this family. Decisions made, life choices reached for and condemned by others, and secrets held in dark places.

And the Bennett family lived life in fractured pieces. Benny left a family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner in 2010 with the sharpness of words serrating her heart. She never looked back.....never once to her parents, never once to her brother. And in those times, her father died. No farewell from Benny. Byron continued to stay by his mother's side. Byron, the successful sea biologist and writer. Benny, the lost wandering soul, searching for her niche in life and never quite finding it.

Wilkerson knows that all stories, great and small, have an origin. The Bennett's tumultuous story has its beginning on an unnamed island in the West Indies of the Caribbean. It's the 1960's and we are introduced to a young girl named Covey. It is Covey's story that will be at the center of a myriad of concentric circles tipped by the thrust of her stone. As readers, we will be grasping the hardcover of this book with both hands. Wilkerson sets one adventure upon the back of another. She's relentless in her telling. This island serves as a springboard to London, to California, and a few other spots along the way.

Black Cake is a specialty. It stems from rich ingredients steeped over time in rum and port and served on the best of occasions. Black Cake seems to reflect life somehow. The end result is not often guaranteed, but having an inner appreciation for the differing textures and fragrances of rare ingredients seems to lift the spirit to a higher plane.

I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Random House (Ballantine Books) and to the talented Charmaine Wilkerson for the opportunity.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,311 reviews658 followers
February 13, 2022
“Sometimes, the stories we don’t tell people about ourselves matter even more than the things we do say.”

So many good quotes in this remarkable novel about identity, loss, family, forgiveness, understanding, expectations, and culture. Well, that’s a few of the topics(ingredients) debut author Charmaine Wilkerson throws into her mixture of a novel. For example, environmental issues get a strong nod in the story. Yes, “Black Cake” is more than a story of a cake. The Black Cake in the story represents history, personal history that carries not only cultural particulars, but the blood sweat and tears of a woman.

Author Wilkerson wants us all to question how well we really know our parents, friends, family. In telling the history of protagonist Eleanor Bennett, there are a wealth of characters who form her story. Wilkerson provides short chapters which are character driven, with multiple narratives and backstories. Although the reader needs to juggle a multiple of characters, they way in which Wilkerson tells her story makes it easy to follow. Even a couple outlier characters are easy to remember because of context. I found this multi-layered story fascinating.

As the story opens, the children of Eleanor Bennett are called home for the funeral of their mother. The children have been estranged from each other. Eleanor’s final wish is that they listen to a recording she made explaining her life. And what a life Eleanor had, unbeknownst to her children. There is subtle humor in here as well. For example, Eleanor towers over 6 feet in height. She’s described as “big boned”, not fat but strong, and an imposing silhouette. I thought of a Serena Williams-like figure. Well, in the 1970’s, she surfed in the rough waves of southern California, in a two-piece orange swimsuit. At the time, only young white people (mostly boys/men) surfed, and a 6 foot athletic black woman hanging 10 was something to be noted. Yes, she bakes black cake and she surfs, and there’s more.

This is the second novel I’ve read in February 2022 by black authors who highlight cultural expectations. Black people don’t surf. Nor do they swim, nor are they scientists (and in the previous novel I read they weren’t concert violinist). I am appreciating authors challenging readers to confront biases.

This is a beautiful story of an unknown family history. I’m sure all families have some hidden gem that someone was too afraid to tell. Genealogy Sites can tell you some fact, it’s the personal stories that can make identity real. Perhaps if we’ve known more of our own ancestors struggles, we as a world could be more empathetic to immigrants. But that’s another subject.

This is a 5 star novel that should not be missed!

Some favored quotes:

“More people’s lives have been shaped by violence than we like to think. And more people’s lives have been shaped by silence than we think.”

“I have lived long enough to see that my life has been determined not only by the meanness of others but also by the kindness of others, and their willingness to listen.”
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,921 reviews35.4k followers
February 3, 2022
“This is the thing about people, Benny thinks. You can look at a person and truly have no idea what they are holding inside. She wonders, did their father know any of this? Ma had lied to her and Byron about so many things that Benny can’t even begin to guess how their mother’s story is going to bring them to the sister they never knew about, much less the life they have now. Has Benny told that many lies about her own life? No, not like these. Not even close”.

A GORGEOUS *DEBUT*…..voluminous in scope…extensive billowing….swirling….surging > en route towards the truth a brother and sister will learn about their mother only when it’s too late to directly ask her any questions…..

“Six years ago, Byron and his mother sat in the church across from his father’s coffin up in L. A. county, waiting for Benny to arrive, but no Benny. Later Byron thought he saw his sister skirting the burial grounds in the back of a car. She’d be there any minute, he thought. But, still, no Benny. Only a text from her later, saying ‘I’m sorry’. Then silence. For months at a time. Then years.
“As each year went by, he was less certain that Benny had been there that day or that he’d ever had a sister to begin with”.

“Your mother has left them a message, the lawyer, Mr. Mitch says”.
“There’s an entire file box labeled Estate of Eleanor Bennett. Mr. Mitch pulls out a brown paper envelope with their mother’s handwriting on it and puts it on the desk in front of Byron. Benny shifts her seat closer to Byrons and leans in to look”.

*Black cake*…..
…..Black Cake — literally and figuratively connects brotherhood, sisterhood, family, nourishment, and love through the stories we pass down —even those inconceivable stories….
“Byron catches himself smiling. Ma and Dad used to share a slice of cake every year to mark their anniversary. It wasn’t the original wedding cake, they said, not anymore. Ma would make a new one every five years or so, one layer only, and put it in the freezer. Still, she insisted that any black cake, steeped as it was in rum and port, could have lasted the full length of their marriage”.
“I want you to sit down together and share the cake when the time is right. You’ll know when”.
“Benny covers her mouth with one hand”.
“Love Ma”.
“Benny starts to cry”.

When I finished this novel and then read the authors notes,
I kept asking myself, “how in the world does a new author write such a vibrant - emotional - fulfilling- story…..(with characters who struggle against stereotypes — colorism — identity- prejudices, racism, friendships - political strife - personal pride that got in the way, educational history, characters to root for — with stunning enjoyment tales about the Caribbean beaches, swimming, (a Black woman long distance champion), surfing, island foods, ( dried fruit in rum), etc.?”

“Black Cake” is so exquisite — so beautiful — so deeply thought provoking…..
I mean how in the world does a mother live with a deeply personal painful secret …. (the only way she knew to survive) ….and go about daily life — a new life — with an aching hidden grief?)…..

How do a brother and sister once so very close—become estranged?

I don’t think I could possibly give this book it’s due justice — there is a lot to chew on…
Personally…for me….I enjoyed reading the ebook - alternating listening to the audiobook. I own both - treasure them equally.

The theme estrangement….is a painful-relatable grief I continue to live with …
While reading “Black Cake” - [simply extraordinary] — my little heart hurt….wishing….(but it was too late)…. that Byron, Benny and their Ma…..(alive) were all in the kitchen baking, dancing, singing, laughing, eating, drinking, sharing ….
However ….my ‘exact’ wish didn’t come about….but Charmaine Wilkerson’s alternative storytelling was personally helpful — and gracefully satisfying.

I can’t say enough wonderful things about the ways this book affected me.
Charmaine’s talent is evident.
…..She presents complex human relationships filled with struggles, and loss with unsentimental compassion….
…..She gives us flavorful cultural and baking ingredients…
…..We not only learn about hidden secrets, and betrayals,…..
travel from the Caribbean, to London, to California….
but as we delicately come to understand a family’s heartbreaking history, we find ourselves growing and healing right along with them.

Beautiful, insightful, motherhood, sibling-hood, cultural-hood…..

*just sayin……if this novel doesn’t win numerous ‘award acknowledgments’…..something is wrong.

Profile Image for Kezia Duah.
367 reviews268 followers
October 4, 2022
In the few or maybe many (I’m really not sure) family drama books I’ve read, complicatedness is usually well done, but so far this one takes the cake. Pun intended.

I was mostly uninterested for a minute when I started, but when Eleanor started to share more about her past, I mysteriously started to pay more attention. This one knew how to grab your heart and mind and make you feel a part of this family. How does a woman hold so many secrets?

I was entranced by how everything came together by the end. The truth sometimes does bring people more together and this book did just that. I connected with the characters individually and even though most of them weren’t perfect, I could understand their actions and feelings. Wilkerson does a great job of being completely open with almost every character’s thoughts.

Profile Image for Cheri.
1,712 reviews2,239 followers
February 1, 2022

Black Cake is a beautiful multi-generational story that covers a broad range of places, the stories of the individual members of the family, and shares how the truth withheld and replaced with lies intended to protect, ends up creating division.

This begins in the 1960’s in the Caribbean, travels to England, to New York City and finally to California where their parents finally settled. Throughout those times, their mother’s Black Cake is one of the things that keeps that bond from dissolving completely for Benny. When they are contacted by their mother’s friend/attorney, they both need to make plans to visit the attorney, together, to listen to a lengthy recording by their mother. Long enough that more than one visit is required in order to hear the story their mother kept secret from them for so long.

They knew little of their mother’s younger years, they were aware that she had been a skilled swimmer, and that she’d grown up in the Caribbean. Benny was taught how to make her mother’s black cake, and that her family considered her somewhat of a disappointment as a daughter. But what they learn from the recording changes everything that they thought that they knew.

The woman they knew, or thought they did, had secrets that they never could have guessed. What little of her life they knew of before they were born left out some rather significant moments. Things that would change the way they saw her, their parents’ marriage, and the shape of their family.

A story of family, of secrets, and struggling to reconcile the lies told with the truth, once it’s revealed.

Published: 01 Feb 2022

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, Ballantine Books
Profile Image for Brandice.
824 reviews
February 10, 2022
Wow, Black Cake was great! Estranged Bennett siblings Byron and Benny meet at home after their mother’s death to receive instructions from her lawyer. Eleanor Bennett left behind a black cake in the freezer, with a note to share it when the time is right, and an audio recording for her children to listen to together.

The story Eleanor shares is long and detailed, filled with obstacles and tragedy — Covey, a child who grew up on an island and loved to swim, whose mother left her too soon, whose father made numerous questionable decisions. Covey was forced into circumstances unwillingly and fought for her freedom from these constraints in life, numerous times. It wasn’t easy and she was required to make hard choices.

This book shifts between the present day, where Byron and Benny absorb the story and process their tense relationship with each other, and the past, shared through Eleanor’s recording. I liked the Bennett family and I felt for these characters! I can’t imagine learning so much that has been left unsaid for so long, or being someone who felt they had no choice but to stay quiet.

”This is the thing about people, Benny thinks. You can look at person and truly have no idea what they are holding inside.”

Black Cake offers a lot to think about — There are multiple “what would I have done?” moments. Aspects of this one reminded me of The Girl With the Louding Voice yet it’s still a distinct, worthy story itself — 4.5 stars (rounded up)

Thank you to Ballantine Books and Netgalley providing an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
October 17, 2022
3.5 stars, rounded down

I was really looking forward to this book club read this month, but unfortunately this book didn't connect for me like I was hoping it would.

It's a combination of a few things:
The storytelling is very disjointed, with a plethora of characters and none of them fully realized or developed. Part of the story is supposedly a recording of Benny and Byron's mother telling them the story of her life via an audio recording played after her death. Yet we get the perspectives of others intertwined with these recordings, so I wasn't sure what was recording and what wasn't, except when either Benny or Byron get upset and stop the recording and then we hear about their lives.

Also, there are just so many "issues" and "soapbox moments" that aren't seamlessly woven into the narrative so they are more forced on the reader rather than an integral part of the plot. This pulled me out of the story so many times. When a writer introduces SO many issues they just get watered down and lost. Some tightening up of the narrative could have given a more cohesive and emotionally resonant story.

Heartbreakingly, there are many missed opportunities for reconnection between various characters after they have lost touch either accidentally or on purpose. Yet although they long for the connection, none of them follow through and then it turns out to be too late.

I loved the descriptions of food and the discussions about food as it relates to culture and how parts of other cultures are pulled into even native dishes. I liked Benny's idea for a cafe and thought it would be a great setting for a story just in itself.

It wasn't a bad read for me, I did think the good outweighed the not-so-good. I just didn't relate well to the characters or care enough about them for this to be a great book.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,276 reviews2,213 followers
August 30, 2022
Family secrets are often kept from loved ones until the end of life or in the case of Elly Bennett, kept from her children estranged from each other, until after her death, told in her own voice in a recording to them. The story is told in dual time frames, recounting Elly’s past and in the present with Benny and Byron trying to understand their mother’s past and trying to find their own place . This is a wonderful story of family, imperfect at times in spite of their love . It’s about the power of tradition, but also of abandonment and loss, of dark things that in time are overshadowed by the light of friendship and love . A wonderful story of a mother’s wish that her children will find each other again with the help of the truth and eating a black cake. Not quite 5 stars because it was a little repetitious at times . I had a copy of this for a while now and I’m sorry that I didn’t read it sooner, but glad I did now.

I received a copy of this book from Ballantine through NetGalley. Apologies for the late review.
Profile Image for Karen.
561 reviews1,104 followers
February 10, 2022
This book started out incredibly good for me and as the novel went on it just went south!
In California..Eleanor, a widow with two adult children has died she leaves Byron and Benny an audio recording of many things they were not aware of regarding her and her husbands past. It is a past that started on a Caribbean island.
The novel is set in two timelines and as it went on, there was just too much of everything for me.. especially when part four of the story started and kept throwing in more characters, side stories, and too many themes!

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing/ Ballantine Books for the ARC
Profile Image for Jenny Lawson.
Author 12 books16.9k followers
February 3, 2022
Inheritance, race, complicated relationships, fascinating characters. This one stayed with me for awhile, in a very good way. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,198 reviews34.9k followers
February 9, 2022
3/3.5 stars

Anyone else considering baking a black cake during/after reading this?

Eleanor Bennett has passed away and she has left a recorded message for her two estranged children, Byron, and Benny. Leaving behind a message isn't unheard of when a will/inheritance is read. But Eleanor's recorded message is longer than most. In it she shares things with her children that she never shared while she was alive, family secrets, details about her life, a secret child, and more much, much more. Then when they are done listening, they are to share a traditional Caribbean black cake.

We can't choose what we inherit. But can we choose who we become?

Byron and Benny are very different people leading very different lives. Their mother's death brings them together and they must face each other, look deep within themselves, all while listening to their mother's story. It's quite a story. It's also full of characters which became a bit much at times.

This story is told in the present and in the past, which worked for me in this novel as we learn about the siblings and their lives, but also about their mother's life as well. There are several themes in this book - identity, family, tradition, loss, acceptance, secrets, how food connects us, reconciliation. I also enjoyed reading as Benny and Byron learned more about their mother. As children, we think we know our parents - and we do to a degree - but we know them as our parents, but we don't know everything about them as their family or friends might now. This awareness was shocking to them, but I feel it did help each to grow.

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Taury.
464 reviews81 followers
January 20, 2023
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson is a lovely book about a woman growing up in the Caribbean. Covey was forced to marry a mobster. Once that is out of the way Covey eventually ends up in California with her first and only love. They have 2 children. Once the children are grown, mistakes are made, Covey and her husband die. Then the real truth becomes known. Then the book follow her children as they find out who their mother really is. This book is wonderful as it goes from the Caribbean , England and the USA.
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
790 reviews243 followers
December 22, 2022
After seeing so many adds for this book, and reading so many recommendations, I decided to take a chance and prioritize it over so many books that I own and that I should be reading (I even have a shelf on Goodreads named “my 2022 must read list”, which started with 65 titles and it is now at 46, so I will have to rename it to 2023).
Well, what a delightful surprise this work was for me.
It has my favourite topics: family, relationships and food. But there are a lot more in here.
I was immediately hooked with the very simple but very captivating writing style.
And I loved its structure.
The timeline did not confuse me.
Yes, perhaps there were too many perspectives/characters, and yes, perhaps the chapters were choppy and the characters not fully developed, but I was completely enthralled by the storyline.
For a debut, this was a great concept.
The author touched a lot of different topics and could have made this book a very thought provoking read. But I think that she held back on the sociological complexities or her purpose was just to entertain.
Anyways, I was so connected with all the characters that I did not want this book to end. I even shed some happy tears.
This book left my heart bursting with joy.
What a great debut!

If you are interested in reading this book and if you are into audiobooks, go for the audio. It’s excellent. I listened as I read the book and the experience was terrific.

Hardcover (Ballantine Books): 385 pages
Ebook: 374 pages (default), 101k words
Audiobook narrated by Lynnette R. Freeman, Simone Mcintyre: 12 hours (normal speed)
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,420 reviews537 followers
January 24, 2022
This multi-generational novel, told in two timelines, focuses on Eleanor Bennett and her children. It is packed with mystery, secrets, betrayals, trauma, racism, identity politics and of course - black cake. Somehow, Wilkerson weaves it all together. A marvelous, warmth infused novel that enchanted me.
Profile Image for Maria.
156 reviews85 followers
July 11, 2022
Man I really wanted to like this book.

Unfortunately there was such a telenovela vibe to the story, it was hard to get through. Anything that could add a level of drama to the story happened.

There were multiple sexual assaults, a violent loan shark, a forced marriage, a stolen baby, pirate gold, police brutality, several faked deaths, a little murder, cock fights, another secret baby, unrequited lesbian love, a global warming campaign, and a ton of hidden illnesses. It was just too much.

It was also hard to connect with any of the characters because they all made such odd/poor choices. Every reaction was overly dramatic and there were so many secrets. Like an insane amount of secrets, kept from everyone for way too long.

I spent a lot of this book asking myself why the characters did the things they did. Like if you had already lost one daughter why would you willing give up the other one by siding with your homophobic husband? It just doesn't make sense to me.
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