Grazia Book Club: The Perfect Recipe For An Epic Family Drama

Feuds, grief, and a murder make Charmaine Wilkerson's 'Black Cake' unputdownable

Grazia Book Club

by Maria Lally |

The story begins on a Caribbean island in 1965, a heartbroken father standing in the surf clutching his runaway daughter’s crumpled wedding dress, which is smeared with cake. Her wedding cake.

It then jumps to present day California, where we meet Byron and Benny, adult siblings who have just lost their mother and are about to sit down and listen to a message she recorded for them before she died, which will explain everything.

They hear the story of a headstrong young woman, abandoned by her mother to be raised by a father whose weakness for drinking and gambling often overrides his responsibilities to his daughter. The woman eventually flees her Caribbean island home, under suspicion of murder, and heads oversees to start a new life. But what follows is an astonishing chain of events. Twists and turns so shocking they will leave your head spinning and your heart aching.

But what does this young woman have to do with Benny and Bryon, who haven’t spoken to each other for several years after a family falling out, and have only been brought together by the death of their beloved mother?

At its heart, the book explores the thorny issue of family dynamics and the impact they have on our lives. ‘Many of us can identify with not always feeling that they meet up to the expectations of others, including their family,’ says the author, Charmaine Wilkerson. ‘This can also go beyond the family, where we come up against stereotypes. Girls becoming young women in 1950s Caribbean faced certain ideas of the kind of lives they would and should be living. And some of the characters in the book run counter to those ideas and to the norms of the day.’

Charmaine explores how rifts within families can set off chains of events that impact everybody within the family. ‘But I hope readers also see that ultimately there’s still a lot of love within the story, and within the families we meet in it. And that life is rarely as simple as somebody being good or bad. The truth is always more complex.’

The theme of food in the title also runs beautifully throughout the book, at times pulling it all together. ‘I didn’t set out to write a story about black cake, but it somehow worked its way into the story,’ says Charmaine. ‘Along with the idea that food is not just about sustenance, but rather how we share our stories and cultures through food. How it is passed down from generation to generation, and how it can be our sense of home, and gives us a sense of being nurtured and of belonging.’

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson is out now

Grazia Book Club gives its verdict:

‘A perfect recipe of family, mystery and life lessons. It’ll leave you craving the Caribbean and a big old slice of black cake.’ Fiona

‘This novel examines the complex, messy dynamics of a family as it evolves, with all the highs and lows bearing down on the individuals. A strong debut.’ Bettina

‘Black Cake’s real strength is its discussion of culture, cuisine and country when it comes to our identity. Food for thought.’ Michaela

‘The main takeaway I got from this novel is that everyone has a layered history, so perhaps we should all be kinder and more understanding. A particularly relevant message for now.’ Jesse Lynn

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