The Ice Cream Queen Of Orchard Street By Susan Gilman
Friday, June 13, 2014
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street.
Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, "The Ice Cream Queen" -- doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality.
Lillian's rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake.
The most appealing aspect of this novel, for me, was the history and life of immigrants on New York's Lower East Side. This early history was very reminiscent of one of my favorite classics regarding immigrant life, Bread Givers By Anzia Yezierska, and quickly filled my hopes for the remainder of this novel. However, beyond this, I found the novel to be quite disappointing. Told in first person, the narrator quickly became annoying and too stereotypical for my liking. Malka Treynovsky, who later fashions herself into becoming Lillian Dunkle, reminded me greatly of Zsa Zsa Gabor in her speech, mannerisms, and self-rightousness, as well as her pompous arrogance. And, her little dog only exemplified this stereotype and left me despising this character beyond redemption. Lillian Dunkle embodies every negative stereotype of a woman in power and is simply a disservice to women as a whole. Yes, I understand this is how many women had to break into a male-dominated business during this time period, but that being said, Lillian Dunkle is so overly exaggerated that it was utterly annoying. On the whole, the author presented a wonderful historical account with great attention to detail, but the main character and the plot itself was disappointing....TWO stars.