Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson – Book review

Black Cake is described as a family saga. Not a genre I actually read a lot of, so what I mean is that sweeping generational tales have to be really good to entice me. Luckily, Black Cake is really good. Much like the recipe that takes centre stage in the story, it’s all about having the right ingredients and this story definitely does…

Opening sentence: He should have known it would come to this.

The Black Cake recipe

So, what are the ingredients? Well, characters that you care about are key and in Covey, we certainly have that. Growing up half Black / half Chinese on the island of Trinidad and Tobago, her life takes turns she has no control over and she had to dig deep to ensure her survival.

In another narrative, we meet siblings Benny and Byron who are dealing with the fact their beloved mother, Eleanor has just died. In her will, she requested something a little unusual. She wants them to listen to her story, of where she came from and, when the time is right, eat her famous black cake.

‘This is Island food,’ Ma said. ‘This is your heritage.’

Another ingredient is themes that make you think and Black Cake is packed full of them…

Heritage & Identity

Key themes Black Cake explores are heritage and identity. It asks if not knowing where we really come from can affect who we are and – interestingly – if learning who we really are can have an impact.

Benny feels like, the more she knows of her mother, the more of her she will lose.

Something that is also looked at is the origins of the black cake so loved by Benny and Byron’s mother and how cultures merge and evolve:

Tradition, his ma used to say. But whose tradition, exactly? Black cake was essentially a plum pudding handed down to the Caribbeans by colonizers from a cold country.

And then this wonderfully layered story takes it even further linking between the overall theme of roots and where we come from with Byron’s job in deep sea exploration (one of the most interesting job roles a character in a book I’ve read has had for a while):

Everything we need to know about our past and our future is here, Byron tells the camera, pointing at a screen showing remote-sensing images.

The last ingredient a great novel must have, of course, is excellent writing. Black Cake took all its ideas and so eloquently and emotionally conveyed them. As well as layering all the characters’ stories and the themes, there were parts of the tale where my heart was in my mouth and others where tears were in my eyes. This is emotive writing at its best.

  • Thank you to Michael Joseph for the ARC;
  • Get your copy of Black Cake here
  • Published by Michael Joseph March 2022;
  • 369 pages;
  • My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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