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Black Cake
Cover of Black Cake
Black Cake
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • READ WITH JENNA BOOK CLUB PICK AS FEATURED ON TODAY • Two estranged siblings delve into their mother’s hidden past—and how it all connects to her traditional Caribbean black cake—in this immersive family saga, “a character-driven, multigenerational story that’s meant to be savored” (Time).
 
“Wilkerson transports you across the decades and around the globe accompanied by complex, wonderfully drawn characters.”—Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones & The Six, and Malibu Rising
In development as a Hulu original series produced by Marissa Jo Cerar, Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Films), and Kapital Entertainment
 
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.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • READ WITH JENNA BOOK CLUB PICK AS FEATURED ON TODAY • Two estranged siblings delve into their mother’s hidden past—and how it all connects to her traditional Caribbean black cake—in this immersive family saga, “a character-driven, multigenerational story that’s meant to be savored” (Time).
 
“Wilkerson transports you across the decades and around the globe accompanied by complex, wonderfully drawn characters.”—Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones & The Six, and Malibu Rising
In development as a Hulu original series produced by Marissa Jo Cerar, Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Films), and Kapital Entertainment
 
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover

    Now

    2018


    She’s here.

    Byron hears the elevator doors peel open. His first instinct is to rush toward his sister and embrace her. But when Benny leans in to hug him, Byron pushes her away, then turns to knock on the door to the attorney’s office. He feels Benny put a hand on his arm. He shakes it free. Benny stands there, her mouth open, but says nothing. And what right does she have to say anything? Byron hasn’t seen Benny in eight years. And, now, their ma is gone for good.

    What does Benny expect? She took a family argument and turned it into a cold war. Never mind all that talk about societal rejection and discrimination and whatnot. It seems to Byron that whatever kind of problem you have in this world, you can find someone to show you understanding. And times are changing. There’s even been a study in the news recently about people like Benny.

    People like Benny.

    The study says it can be a lonely road for people like her. But she won’t be getting any sympathy from Byron, no. Benedetta Bennett gave up that luxury years ago when she turned her back on her family, even though she claims it was the other way around. At least she showed up this time. 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.

    That he’d ever had a chubby, squiggle-headed baby girl following him around the house.

    That she’d ever cheered him on at the national meets.

    That he’d ever heard her voice sailing across the auditorium as he closed his hand around his doctoral diploma.

    That he’d ever not felt the way he does right now. Orphaned and pissed as hell.

     

     

    Benny

    Her mother’s attorney opens the door and Benny looks past him, half expecting to see her ma sitting in the room. But it’s only Benny and Byron now, and Byron won’t even look at her.

    The lawyer is saying something about a message from their mother but Benny can’t concentrate, she’s still looking at Byron, at the bits of gray in his hair that didn’t use to be there. What’s with the pushing, anyway? The man is forty-five years old, not ten. In all these years, her big brother has never shoved her, never hit her, not even when she was little and tended to pounce and bite like a puppy.

    Benny’s first memory of Byron: They are sitting on the couch, she is settled under her brother’s arm, and Byron is reciting adventure stories to her from a book. His feet can already touch the floor. Byron stops to fluff Benny’s hair with his fingers, to pull on her earlobes, to pinch her nostrils shut, to tickle her until she is breathless with laughter, until she is dying of happiness.

     

     

    The Message

    Their mother has left them a message, the lawyer says. The lawyer’s name is Mr. Mitch. He’s talking to Byron and Benny as though he’s known them all their lives, though Byron can only recall meeting him one other time, when his ma needed help getting around town after her accident last winter, the one his friend Cable insisted wasn’t an accident. Byron walked his mother up to...

About the Author-
  • Charmaine Wilkerson is an American writer who has lived in Jamaica and is based in Italy. A graduate of Barnard College and Stanford University, she is a former journalist whose award-winning short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies. Black Cake is her first novel.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 13, 2021
    Wilkerson debuts with a shining family saga that stretches from the 1960s Caribbean to present-day Southern California. After septuagenarian Eleanor Bennett dies, her lawyer plays a lengthy message she has recorded for her children Byron and Benny. The siblings have made for uneasy company with each other since a rift grew between them—Byron, the oldest, is laser-focused on his career, while his sister Benny is drifting. They knew their mother as a stern presence and an accomplished swimmer from somewhere in the Caribbean (who was also known to bake a rum and port soaked “black cake” from an old family recipe), but neither is prepared for what they learn from the recording. Eleanor is in fact Coventina “Covey” Lyncook, who was married off to a gangster named Little Man in 1965 by her debt-ridden father. At the wedding, Little Man drops dead, poisoned. Covey runs from the scene and, knowing she will be suspected of murder, swims away from the island. At first shocked by the revelations, Byron and Benny reconcile, and their mother’s instructions to share a black cake she’d left in the freezer “when the time is right” take on great poignancy. Wilkerson offers superb descriptions of Covey’s homeland, from the tension between those who speak patois and those who believe in the superiority of standard English, to sensual descriptions of food, surfing, and coastal terrain. Readers will adore this highly accomplished effort from a talented new writer. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Literary.

  • AudioFile Magazine A complex family story simmers in this audiobook. Lynnette Freeman and Simone Mcintyre narrate with appropriate energy, wielding rich, precise voices with aplomb. After the recent death of their mother, Benny and Byron are presented with a recording that promises to illuminate family secrets. Once this frame story is established, the narrative breaks into various accounts of the family's origins, which are emotionally delivered but often challenging to follow in the audio format. The anecdotes are well told--they move briskly, and the narrators are invested in them. But each shift in timeframe or character requires the listener to readjust. While the strengths of Freeman and Mcintyre are evident in both exposition and dialogue, the listener would benefit from the ability to flip back through the pages of a print edition. L.B.F. � AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2022

    Estranged siblings Benny and Byron are reluctantly reunited after the death of their mother, Eleanor. She's left them a traditional Caribbean black cake and a long voice recording that unspools a family history kept secret for nearly 50 years. As they listen to the recording, the novel explores not just Eleanor's life and secrets, but also the siblings' childhood, their adult years, and the events that led to their estrangement. Two exceptional performances from narrators Lynnette Freeman and Simone Mcintyre bring Wilkerson's globe-trotting, decade-spanning debut novel vividly to life. Freeman narrates the bulk of the book in a deep, rich tone that works for characters of all ages and genders. Mcintyre voices the recording left by Eleanor in a gentle, musical Caribbean accent. The similarities in their voices create continuity between the novel's sections, while highlighting the recording that is the story's central element. VERDICT Grounded but filled with feeling, the narrators' performances perfectly match the tenor of Wilkerson's emotional novel. Highly recommended.--Emily Calkins

    Copyright 2022 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Charmaine Wilkerson
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