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  • Writer's pictureGaili Schoen

Black Cake

Hi Friends

Hope you are doing well wherever you are! We have had blistering heat here in Los Angeles the last few days, and naturally my air conditioner broke, so I have read very little lately! Today it was repaired and I feel myself reviving, and ready to write my review.

When I first picked up Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson,I just couldn't get into it. I am not sure why, but I have noticed that my book choices seem to be dependent upon my current mood or what I am interested to learn about in the moment. Does that happen to you? Sometimes just putting a book aside until it's the right time for one to read it, is the best course of action. When I revisited Black Cake I loved reading it! I enjoyed writing some Calypso music to accompany my book trailer (and asked my husband Michael to provide the percussion) which you can watch above! Here is my synopsis and review:

Byron and his estranged sister Benny (short for Benedetta) come together for their mother's funeral, and to listen to her recordings telling them the hidden story of her life. Their mother Eleanor was born on a Caribbean island to a native woman and a Chinese father, and when her father arranged her marriage to a menacing local gangster in return for his debt cancellations, she was devastated. When the gangster suddenly dropped dead at the wedding, Eleanor ran away, tearing off her wedding dress and jumping into the ocean. Though the islanders took her for dead, she was a world class swimmer, and with the help of a friend, she escaped to England, and eventually settled in the USA.

After she left her home, Eleanor retained the memory of how to make the black cake--a days long process involving blackening sugar, soaking fruit in rum, and preparing the icing--that symbolized her island life:

“This is the only thing that I had left when I lost my family,” Benny's mother once told her, tapping a finger on the side of her head. "I carried it all in here. The black cake recipe, my schooling, my pride."

Eleanor was married to the love of her life, Byron and Benny's father, who was complicit in keeping some of her secrets, but even he did not know her full story:

"Eleanor had lied to her husband for all those years because she understood that if you wanted someone to keep loving you, you couldn't ask them to bear all of your burdens."

Black Cake is the story of the many injustices women, and particularly women of color, endure on a daily basis, while pushing themselves to continually move forward. Eleanor's life (as well as Benny's) has been shaped by the men who dominate her world, but both she and Benny find ways to create beauty, joy and family.

Black Cake was published earlier this year so you can check it out at your library or digitally on the Libby app, purchase it at your local bookstore (it has a beautiful cover!), on Amazon (click below) or listen to it on which benefits your local bookstore. Leave us a comment below to tell us what you are reading!

Stay cool and dry, and read yourself happy! Best, Gaili

Ballantine Books: Hardcover 400 pages, Audiobook (recommended!) 12 hours.


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