Review: Black Cake

Four stars

THE PLOT: ‘Black Cake’ by Charmaine Wilkerson is a multi-generational and multi-cultural family saga with a dual timeline and multiple points of view. In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children: a family recipe for traditional Caribbean black cake and a voice recording. In her recording, Eleanor shares a young woman’s heart-breaking journey from her island home but the story challenges everything the siblings thought they knew about their family. Can they piece together Eleanor’s true history and fulfil her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right?”

RATING: I’m giving this novel four stars because I loved the main storyline, which was mostly set in a fictionalized/unnamed Caribbean Island in the 1960’s. You know I can’t resist a bit of historical fiction and the setting was absolutely stunning (I can picture it in my mind as if I’ve been there). I also found the plot really compelling and moreish due to the short chapters and roving points of view which made for great pacing. On the downside, the present-day storylines were good but not great, and I felt the novel dragged at the end. However, the themes of family, love and loyalty, and the elements about queerness, race and multi-culturalism has won this book a place in my heart.

GOOD BITS: This debut novel is really impressive due to the numerous different storytelling techniques the author uses. I really loved how the author gave us a family backstory that was filled with different cultures and continents. The theme of multi-culturalism and migration worked so well and became a metaphor for the Caribbean itself; how the island is characterized by the different colonial and immigrant forces. In particular, I thought the inclusion of a Chinese-Jamaican character was very impactful and added so much to the story.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: The last 100 pages of this book dragged a little as there was a lot of resolution. It felt like the author had to tie up lots of loose ends but the main story was finished and the reader is already able to guess the conclusion of any unresolved storylines. Contributing to this was my feeling that Byron’s present-day storyline was a bit bolted on. I understand why Byron had to have his own storyline (because there needed to be some present-day/ forward action) but it felt as if it wasn’t fully integrated into the narrative. It was 90% there, but just not 100%.

OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘Sankofa’ by Chibundo Onuzo and ‘Fruit of the Lemon’ by Andrea Levy. The discovery of family secrets and idea of ‘returning to where you have left to find out who you are’ resonated with me. But I also think this book will appeal to a range of readers, from lovers of bookclub / women’s fiction, to those who are more interested in near-historical fiction and the legacy of colonialism.

Thanks to Penguin Random House @MichaelJBooks @weearemediahive for the #gifted copy of #BlackCake (along with some actual Black Cake from @Doreens_Rumcakes in the PR package). This novel is available to buy in the UK and US from 3rd February 2022.