Eleanor Bennett won’t let her own death get in the way of the truth. So when her estranged children – Byron and Benny – reunite for her funeral in California, they discover a puzzling inheritance.
First, a voice recording in which everything Byron and Benny ever knew about their family is upended. Their mother narrates a tumultuous story about a headstrong young woman who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder, a story which cuts right to the heart of the rift that’s separated Byron and Benny.
Second, a traditional Caribbean black cake made from a family recipe that Eleanor hopes will heal the wounds of the past.
Can Byron and Benny fulfil their mother’s final request to ‘share the black cake when the time is right’?
Or will Eleanor’s revelations leave them feeling more lost than ever?
*This book was gifted to me by Penguin Michael Joseph and this post includes affiliate links, please read our disclaimer policy for more information*
This book was delicious.
It’s absolutely scrumptious. From the mystery plot, the conversations surrounding the Caribbean diaspora, familial love, generational trauma, beautiful storytelling and incredibly short chapters…you are in for a treat from the moment you start this book till the very end.
Charmaine Wilkerson wrote a gorgeous novel about two adults that haven’t spoken in eight years but are brought together after their mother dies to listen to a voice recording that she left for them, revealing who she really is and what she wants them to do once she’s died.
From the start, you’re sucked into this book as the incredibly short chapters are easy to take in and the plot feels like it’s building rather quickly when in actual fact, Wilkerson is taking you on a long but beautiful journey. You’re immersed in the world and listen alongside Bennie and Byron as they hear their mother’s story and discover this long-hidden secret.
“Who you knew yourself to be on the inside was not the same as how others saw you. Who you knew yourself to be wasn’t always enough to help you make it in this world.”
Now you’re probably wondering how Black cake fits into all of this. Black Cake is a Caribbean dessert, made with rum-soaked currents and lots of sugar. For years, my Grandma has made Black cake at Christmas, Easter and throughout various points in the year. It’s a staple. Something that I’ve always taken for granted.
But this book makes you think about the history behind cultural dishes. It sounds weird but typically these dishes have a past. Passed down from generation to generation, perhaps slightly modified in places, the raw core elements of each dish remain the same. They become a part of our culture…our heritage.
It’s a way for us to honour our ancestors and all those that came before us.
A nod to the past and perhaps, a bit of gratitude for where we are now.
Charmaine delves into the history surrounding Black Cake by using this family recipe that’s been passed down from their mother to the daughter, Benny. Through both characters, we see how central it is to the family and how it became a core foundation part of who the mother was…and even who she would become.
And truly, this novel leans into identity and what it means to each person. The way someone’s identity is typically linked to where they’ve come from and the country they grew up in. Charmaine shows how limited and perhaps how trapped you can become with that sole description of identity.
Identity is more than that. It’s who you are now and who you are to other people. A friend. A daughter. A mother. A father. A partner…
“My life has been determined not only by the meanness of others but also by the kindness of others, and their willingness to listen.”
Whichever, your identity can be made up by the people that love you. And that’s something that should be held at the centre of who you are as it will keep you grounded.
And yet, Charmaine uses this to discuss motherhood and the unconditional and inexplicable love between a mother and child. It’s a love that transcends time, distance and even culture.
The shortened chapters combined with Charmaine’s beautiful prose is an enriching experience…one that will keep you hooked throughout the novel. The references to Jamaica, it’s language, culture and food…it reminded me of just how multicultural the island is and how each culture has shaped it into the country I know and love today.
The mystery surrounding Benny and Byron’s mother is one of intrigue and is without a doubt, the focal point of the book. Nevertheless, Charmaine jumps back and forth in time to reiterate the presence of generational trauma and how it manifests.
However, the constant discussion surrounding home and family becomes prominent the more we read. Both are naturally, more often than not, become interchangeable for a lot of us. Growing up in a household, where we had someone of blood relation around us and thus, when we think of home…we think of them too.
To think of home, we think of a safe space. Somewhere to be ourselves unconditionally and unapologetically surrounded by people that accept us for who we are.
Consequently, it can be devastating when family betrays you and that sense of security…that feeling of home is snatched away from us. I found this the most intriguing as Charmaine takes us on this journey but the characters are bound by their connection… to home and it’s something that can be passed down through generations. A desire to visit the country of your ancestors.
This book also explores many social issues. I loved the details about the preservation of the environment and the discussions surrounding bisexuality. And I understood the necessity of racism as to write a modern novel surrounding Black people in western culture means mentioning some form of the social issue. There’s a particular moment where I thought more was going to come out of a certain plot point but then it didn’t, so I was a little disappointed by it. However, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the book.
I truly felt like this was a beautiful debut.
And I’m really looking forward to reading whatever Charmaine writes next!