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|‘Black Cake,’ by Caribbean American author Charmaine Wilkerson has made former President Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading List.
Wilkerson is a Caribbean-American writer who has lived in Jamaica and is based in Italy. A graduate of Barnard College and Stanford University, she is a former journalist whose award-winning short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies. ‘Black Cake’ is her first novel and has made it on to the New York Times Bestseller list.
Writing about her novel in Elle Magazine, Wilkerson says “My mothers’ upbringings could not have been more different, though sometimes they seemed similar in the telling. Small-town Jamaica versus small-city New England. Parents lost, dreams given up, some wishes fulfilled. Both formed families with men from other cultures. Both are gone now, but they live on, in part, through the workaday keepsakes whose value no one would guess.”
Food is integral to Caribbean history, the unfolding, and making of history. Every person could share some experience they had or story that was told around food, including how to perfect a unique family recipe that has been passed down through generations.
As Charmaine recounts, “We know that food helps to build connections between people. But people migrate, marriages break up, people remarry, strangers move in together. Food can also play a role in anchoring individuals, families, and entire cultures amid change. Sharing a family recipe can carry the same weight as sharing a piece of heirloom jewelry or an ancestral home. Especially if a recipe, a language all its own, is all a person has left to give.
Continuing to reminisce on her Caribbean upbringing, the peoples of the region are also let into the history of the black cake. We are advised “The traditional Caribbean fruitcake symbolises family bonds and memories in the face of significant loss, but also a multicultural history. Black cake is a descendant of the English plum pudding, but has evolved over time into something unique and more tropical in the blend of its key ingredients. It is the quintessential Caribbean cake for celebrations. It makes me think of holidays and weddings. It is a source of joy. But also, it is the offshoot of a less-than-sanguine past.”
Keishel Williams, book reviewer, arts and culture writer and editor, writing in the Washington Post, offers-
“‘Black Cake’ is a delectable read. Wilkerson’s scenes unfold as quick-paced vignettes, immersing readers into the minds and environments of the characters. It takes us on a journey that forces us to look at how both chance encounters and historical events, such as the transatlantic slave trade and Windrush migration, alter a family. The effects ripple out for generations, and the novel allows for a full reflection on how one’s self-identity can change in an instant. Wilkerson’s intent is clear: We are left to think about the things we inherit from our ancestors — physical traits, mental and emotional strife, even cultural attachments, like a beloved recipe that has the power to bring us home, if only in our minds.”
The novel is being sold by Amazon
Trinidadian V.S Naipaul was once on Obama’s Reading List.