"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, May 23, 2023


Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson 

Opening lines:

He should have known it would come to this. He should have known the day his hak gwai wife of his ran away from home. Should have known the day he saw his daughter swimming in the bay as a storm bore down on her.

Another quote:

“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.”



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? (Publisher)

Review: Tomorrow my book club meets to discuss Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson. The group, made up of mostly retired high school teachers, prides itself on selecting the best that literature has to offer. We always scour book review sources and pay attention to books others think will provide fodder for good discussions. When we select a "clinker" we will chide ourselves for years about that choice. "Remember Frog Music," we'll ask each other and laugh. Black Cake is a perfect example of the type of books we usually select: set in another country we know little about, with a cast of varied characters, and an interesting-sounding plot. 

Black Cake seems to check all the correct boxes. It is set originally in a unnamed Caribbean Island. Covey (aka Eleanor) lives with her father, a Chinese-Caribbean man, and Pearl, the housekeeper and cook, since her mother has abandoned them. She is a swimmer of great strength and dreams of winning the in-ocean swim prize. When her arranged marriage to the man holding her father's gambling debts ends in murder, all eyes turn to Covey, but she has ran/swum away and everyone assumes she has drowned. Because of these murder charges, Covey cannot return home and leaves for the UK where she is alone and friendless. She assumes the name of another woman and eventually ends up in the United States. When she dies, she leaves behind a tape for her children, Benny and Byron, to listen to together. As they listen they learn the whole back story of their mother and learn that they have a sister in the UK, a child their mother was forced to give up.

The chapters are arranged by NOW and THEN stories. /Covey/Eleanor's story unfolds slowly as the readers jump back and forth in time. The narration is picked up by a variety of characters, but the chapter headings help the reader by clearly marking who is speaking.

All good so far.

So what is the beef I had with the book? In my opinion Wilkerson tried to do too much with her book. It was as if every social ill needed to be mentioned but not very well addressed. Child abandonment, parental gambling, rape/sexual abuse/ forced adoption. racial issues (especially for Byron, the Black man in the story), LGBTQ issues, sibling rivalry, relationship problems, climate change concerns, immigration concerns, friendship troubles, etc. Wilkerson seemed to be checking boxes herself. It is as if she wanted to increase readership by naming all social ills, but was not equipped to adequately address the concerns or the look at possible solutions. One review said the book came off as "soap opera-y." Cue the dramatic music. That same reviewer mentioned the loss of opportunity Wilkerson missed about not expanding on several of the plot points. I would argue that she also created characters who for 90% of the book showed little growth or self awareness. Ugh. I hate that. Not until the end of the book did any them seem to get unstuck and move in a positive direction.

My rating: 3 stars. In my mind I played around with giving it only 2 stars but the ending was fairly satisfying, though possibly it wrapped almost too nicely. Sigh.  Recommendation: proceed with caution.


No comments:

Post a Comment

I look forward to your comments and interactions! Join in the conversation.