Black Cake is a stunning novel by debut author Charmaine Wilkerson. The story was inspired by a text Wilkerson received from her nephew, who was getting married and wanted his grandmother’s black cake for his wedding. His text spurred Wilkerson to write about the diaspora of food; thus, Black Cake was born. Spanning sixty years in the life of one family, Black Cake follows estranged siblings Byron and Benny, who reunite for their mother’s funeral in California, where they discover a puzzling inheritance. First, a voice recording in which everything Byron and Benny thought they knew about their family is uprooted, and second, a Caribbean black cake that their mother has requested them to share when ‘the time is right’.
Black Cake is lyrical, and the dual timelines and multiple points of view are expertly and intelligently woven together. Although the changes in perspective can be confusing at first, Wilkerson ensures that everything comes together beautifully by the end of the novel. In addition, the whole cast of characters feels rich and complex, real and relatable. The characters of Benny, Covey, Bunny, and Pearl, in particular, were the most memorable due to their struggles and how they overcame what life threw at them with power and resilience.
Furthermore, Wilkerson approaches a multitude of sensitive issues in Black Cake, such as colonialism, racism, sexuality, parenting, and climate change. Wilkerson’s bravery in not shying away from such heavy topics is commendable. Most importantly, though, Wilkerson handles these topics with care, ensuring that she does not bombard her readers by looping the story back to the central theme of family. In this way, the novel remains relatable to each and every reader at some level.
After reading Black Cake, it is easy to see why Hulu has snatched the story up in a bidding war to bring it to viewers’ screens.