Monday, April 18, 2016

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman



Malka Treynovsky is a young Jewish girl who feels Russia with her family for America.  Living in New York City is much tougher than the immigrant family imagined, tougher still after Malka is crippled in an accident with an ice wagon.  Malka is taken in by the ice man’s family and rechristened as Lillian. Lillian later marries the handsome Albert Dunkle and the two start an ice cream empire.  Lillian recounts the tale of her youth in later years as she awaits trial for not paying taxes.

I enjoyed the story and how Lillian’s life paralleled the American dream.  I also really enjoyed several underlying themes.  One of these was the power of media.  Media helped to bring Lillian up in the world with her TV show for kids and the ads for the Polio Vaccine supported by Dunkle’s.  The media also helped to bring her down in the end by portraying her life inaccurately or interpreting things falsely.  It’s kind of scary when you think about it – how many celebrities that we feel we all “know” have had their characters crucified inaccurately in the media?

Lillian had a bad father.  A father that abandoned his family and was always looking for the next con.  A father that had many wives.  A father that wanted to use his daughter for his own advantage whenever he could get money from her.  This reminded me of my Great-Grandma Kile and her own contentious relationship with her father.  Lillian was forever hopeful that her father would want a relationship from her until the end.  I think that this abandonment was why Lillian had such a hard time letting people get close to her.

I loved Lillian’s relationship with her Grandson, although I don’t really approve of Grandma’s leading their grandkids into vice.  I think it was supposed to be cute because she is rich, but it wouldn’t be so cute if Lillian lived in a trailer.  Indeed it is Lillian’s problem with alcohol that causes all of her woes at the end of the novel.  I was sad for Lillian that she could never seem to believe that her husband Albert truly loved her. 

I’ll admit there were a couple of items that really annoyed me about this novel.  Lillian really likes to tell her audience (the reader) “So sue me” and call the readers “darlings.”  That would be okay one or two times, but it was used excessively and was very annoying.  I also thought the cover was strange.  Malka/Lillian is paralyzed in an accident at the very start of the novel and has a brace on her leg for the entire rest of the novel.  The cover photo shows a woman with perfectly fine legs and an ice cream cone.  It doesn’t go with this story.

The Ice Cream of Orchard Street is our book club book’s pick for the month of April.  I can’t wait to see what everyone else thought about this novel.

My favorite line in the novel was:

“I have journeyed from Russia to the United States.  From poor to rich.  And now I will be given a number and a uniform.”

Overall, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street was an entertaining historical fiction novel with some very interesting themes, but a couple of annoying ticks in the writing style.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

4 comments:

  1. Laura, thank you for sharing your honest thoughts about this book. It sounds like an interesting story about Lillian's life, overall.

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  2. It was - she was a very unique character. I can't wait to see what everyone thinks about her at book club!

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  3. I just had to add this to my reading list! Love the honest review.

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