Have you ever inherited something that made you question your entire identity?
In Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel, “Black Cake,” Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves her two grown children with a puzzling inheritance – a black cake and a voice recording.
As they listen to their mother’s message, they uncover a tumultuous story about her past and a long-lost child that challenges everything they thought they knew about their lineage and themselves.
This family saga takes us on a journey through more than half a century of one family’s history, exploring the nature of identity, the blending of cultures within families, and the power of secrets and betrayals.
In this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some book club questions for Black Cake and why it’s a must-read for anyone looking to explore the complexities of family dynamics and the weight of inherited secrets.
And in case you want to read what the book is about and know my opinion, I have a detailed blog post here – Black Cake Book Review.
The post might contain affiliate links. For more information, read our disclosure. Also, these questions contain spoilers.
Black Cake Book Club Questions
- Covey’s father’s gambling addiction puts her in a dangerous situation as he promises her hand in marriage to a local underworld crime figure to pay off his debts. It also causes him to lose his business and puts Covey in a position of having to take care of herself and find a new path forward, eventually forcing Covey to flee the island and start a new life in London.
Based on this context, discuss how a bad habit can destroy someone’s life and how one can prevent such things from happening.
- Covey takes on the identity of Eleanor after the train crash, and her children are unaware of her true identity until after her death. Benny struggles with her bisexuality and finding her place in the world, while Byron is very focused on his career and becomes known for his work in a specific field. Bunny also has to grapple with her romantic feelings for Covey and her own identity as a long-distance swimmer.
Discuss how the theme of identity is prevalent throughout the story, as several characters have multiple identities or struggle with their sense of self.
- Secrets are a major theme in the story, as characters withhold important information from each other that could change their lives. Covey/Eleanor keeps her true identity a secret from her children until after her death, and Benny keeps her bisexuality a secret from her family for many years.
Discuss how the consequences of such secrets play out, eventually leading to misunderstandings and strained relationships between family members.
- Covey’s struggle with her identity creates distance between her and her children, as she keeps secrets and maintains emotional distance from them. She is haunted by the memory of the baby she was forced to give up for adoption and is uneasy about how little her children know about her past. It is only through her recording, which she shares with her children after her death, that they learn about her past and the depth of her tragedy.
Why do you think Covey could not bring out the truth about her to her children during her lifetime?
- Benny’s strained relationship with her mother and father contributes to her pessimistic views on love and relationships. Her parents do not show her sufficient sympathy when she opens up about her bisexuality and the messy end of her relationship with her girlfriend, Joanie.
Do you think it was this lack of support from her parents that led her to adopt a strategy of flight as a means of survival, to keep herself from having to function in the real world with real relationships?
- Byron’s quest to map the ocean’s floor serves as a metaphor for his own desire for control and certainty, and his eventual realization that it was impossible reflects a larger theme in the novel about the importance of embracing uncertainty. The ocean represents the vast and unpredictable nature of life and the impossibility of fully understanding or controlling it.
What’s your take on the symbolic representation of the ocean in this novel, and how does it relate to the characters’ journeys?
- Byron is portrayed as a highly organized and driven individual who has always believed that he can control the direction in which his life is heading to. However, his mother’s death and the revelation of his half-sister Benny disrupts his sense of control and certainty, forcing him to confront the limitations of his knowledge and the unpredictability of life.
Do you think that it was through his relationship with Benny that he learned to embrace uncertainty and experimentation, recognizing that sometimes the best way to understand something is to let go of the need for control and allow it to reveal itself?
- As a long-distance swimmer who has crossed some of the world’s most forbidding stretches of open water, Bunny embodies the values of determination and resilience in the face of adversity. Additionally, as an advocate for LGBT rights and the dignity of love, Bunny represents a commitment to social justice and the importance of standing up for what is right and what is wrong.
Discuss how this character of Bunny is a representation of themes of perseverance, courage, and social justice in the novel.
- Byron sees Benny as a distraction from his own pursuits, dismissing her messy and unpredictable behavior as illogical and distracting. However, as he begins to spend more time with her and learns more about her life and experiences, he comes to appreciate the value of experimentation and the need to factor in the limits of one’s own understanding.
Discuss how this change in attitude resulted in the confrontation of the limitations of Bryon’s own knowledge and the recognition of the importance of embracing an uncertain future.
- A lie is a deliberate action taken to avoid the threat of revelation, whereas a secret is something kept hidden to spare others rather than protect oneself. The novel suggests that secrets can create emotional distance, but their revelation promises to lead to healthier relationships, unlike lies, which shatter relationships and are difficult to forgive or get over.
Based on this definition of lies and secrets, talk about certain incidents in the book where you think something was a lie in disguise, and the same goes for secrets.
If you liked this list of questions, here are some other options for you to explore.
November 9: In the captivating novel by Colleen Hoover, Fallon and Ben’s lives intertwine on the eve of Fallon’s departure from L.A. Their undeniable connection fuels Ben, but as time passes, doubts arise. Can their heart-wrenching journey be called a love story if it concludes in heartbreak?
The Magnolia Palace: In Fiona Davis’ tantalizing novel, secrets, betrayal, and murder entwine the lives of two women separated by fifty years but connected by a prestigious New York mansion. As Lillian and Veronica navigate scandal and hidden messages, their fates hang in the balance, with danger lurking at every turn.
The Dictionary of Lost Words: A captivating tale set in the early 1900s, where young Esme discovers the missing word “bondmaid” and embarks on a secret quest to create her own dictionary, celebrating forgotten words and the hidden stories of women.
Atlas of The Heart: In this book, Brené Brown takes us on an exciting journey through the intricate landscape of human emotions and experiences. With her expert storytelling and research-backed wisdom, she equips us with the tools to navigate this terrain, empowering us to connect deeply and make courageous choices in our lives.
We Begin at The End: In a coastal California town, Walk, the police chief haunted by a past betrayal, reunites with his imprisoned friend Vincent. Meanwhile, thirteen-year-old outlaw Duchess fights to protect her struggling family.