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Likely Stories - Black Cake

I've read many novels that have one or two well developed main characters, while all other characters seem more one dimensional, supporting cast types. But the novel Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson couldn't be more opposite of this.

It had me deeply invested in every single character. Each person is so real and layered that you have to remind yourself you're reading fiction.

As the story opens we meet Byron and Benny, estranged siblings who are brought together by their mother's death. They just want to get the funeral behind them and grieve privately- but not so fast. They are told by a lawyer that their mother left them two very important- and peculiar items. One, a Caribbean black cake, in the freezer, with a note that they are to enjoy it together when, quote: "the time is right". And the second item is much more mysterious- she has left them an 8 hour recording, with the instructions that they MUST listen to it together.

As they begin to listen, the sound of their mother's voice fills them with emotion, but then nervousness as she begins with "Please forgive me for not telling you any of this before... Everything goes back to the island and what happened there more than fifty years ago. The first thing you need to know about is a girl named Covey" Who is this Covey, they wonder. Their mother's name was Eleanor, and they have never heard this name referenced. But as the recording unfolds, Byron and Benny go on a journey of discovery they could never have fathomed.

Their mother, a woman they thought they knew, had a past that they didn't know at all. A past she had to hide to protect herself and those she loved. This novel was truly a page-turner for me, each chapter adds a new layer with beautifully written characters and a plot that flows so well between past and present. You feel as if you are sitting with Byron and Benny on the couch, listening to their mother tell a story of heartbreak and resilience. A story that has the Caribbean as it's roots and meaningful themes such as the pain of hiding your true self, the desperation of having no control over your future, the desire to hold onto hope despite every odd.

I don't want to give away too many specific plot points, because this novel takes you on such a journey of twists and turns spanning from the 1960s to modern day. Though the characters in Black Cake are fiction, the author, Charmaine Wilkerson was inspired by her own upbringing in Jamaica, and traditions such as making black cake with her family.

Black Cake- a running theme in the book, is a decadent cake made of fruits soaked in rum and wine for days-it's a labor of love, and a dessert often served at special occasions such as weddings, one such wedding being a pivotal scene in the novel. But I told you I don't want to give too much away, so I will have to leave it at that. Charmain Wilkerson is a master storyteller- and her ability to capture your heart and attention with short impactful chapters, and beautifully written characters is worth all the praise this book has received. In fact it's even been turned into a Hulu series recently. But of course, as always, read the book first.

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