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.
A special thank you to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET, a rags- to- riches historical fiction, of a Jewish immigrant, Malka Treynovsky, a determined six-year old girl from a poor childhood, set in 1913----flees Russia with her family, searching for the all American dream.
What a ride! An exciting journey and fate of one driven, complicated, determined, yet colorful and troubled protagonist ----- encountering misfortune on her way to the dream she yearns for, and then some. . . A heartwarming novel full of crazy, yet engaging humorous characters with a mixture of romance, history, and suspense.
Within three months of arriving in New York, her Papa abandons her, and her mother blames her for their misfortune-- Malka gets trampled by a horse, leaving her crippled. Abandoned by her parents, fate steps in---the man steering the horse takes pity on Malka, welcoming her into his home and world, where she becomes part of the family.
This poor, unattractive, smart, yet sarcastic and crippling Malka soaks up everything from Catholicism, and embraces the family business, while at the same time excels at school, and her life begins to change drastically for the better. Fueled by her grief and abandonment, she begins to redefine herself as Lillian, The Ice Cream Queen of America. (Lillian Dunkle)
Lillian, driven and savvy, creates quite an empire with determination and tenacity, taking Dunkle’s ice cream from a broken down truck to a household name, with her own TV show. But beneath the strong exterior, Lillian is still the crippled outcast of Malka-- abandoned, and bitter—can she believe in herself?
She does whatever she needs to do to survive (seriously), and assure that her company remains on top. Playing the caring, motherly Ice Cream Queen in the public while scheming, lying and drinking too much in private can only last so long, as the two worlds collide, forcing Lillian to take a good hard look at her life or risk losing it all.
After meeting and falling in love with the gorgeous, kind and illiterate radical Albert, ---the two set off across American in an ice cream truck to make their fortune as business partners. With the changing events, we see Lillian and Albert struggle through poverty, wars, movements of the sixties, as linked to the Prohibition, to the disco days of Studio 54. our changing economy, and the overall competitive ice cream business---- Revolutionizing production, franchising, marketing and christened as the “Ice Cream Queen of America” by Dwight D Eisenhower.
Coming from a family without a penny when stepping off the boat---to tax evasion, a wrongful arrest---many enemies---a life changing experience for one special needs girl, on a sweltering day, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with a kind peddler, a horse drawn cart, and a man named Salvatore Dinello, where readers follow Lillian’s journey step by step.
A well-researched book, inspired by real life events—with a compelling protagonist, as Susan Jane Gilman, notes---the invention of soft-serve, credited to Tom Carvel (American-immigrant rags-to-riches saga), who began selling melted ice cream after a tire on his truck went flat.
As the ice cream industry was directly affected by the greatest events of the twentieth century and American history, parallels as Lillian’s own life is shaped and her motivations for some of the things which led her down certain paths. (loved the ice cream flavors, interesting facts, and research about the entire industry).
Susan Jane Gilman created Lillian, likable (not always), and one which readers will feel empathy—(I was totally rooting for her)! As the author referenced, THEICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD is a love letter to New York City and to the American dream ,and for all those who have worked so hard to attain their place in society.
I loved the author’s note: “In my daily life, I’m generally obsessed with three things: “Sex, New York City, and Ice Cream”. (choosing the latter two) for her masterpiece. I enjoyed “A Conversation with Susan Jane Gilman” at the end of the book, sharing of her inspiration, thoughts, and process for the writing of this special story, which offers readers a more personal and real connection with the author and her characters---her passion is truly reflective through her writing!
A mixture of past and present, a realistic story of hard work, scheming, the good/bad, and determination of one girl/woman’s life spanning over seventy years----expanding upon the way women are often portrayed in our culture with disabilities—pushing the boundaries (reiterating, “well behaved women rarely make history)”.
An immigrant fleeing the pogroms to leading an ice cream empire—a life broadened in unimaginable ways---shared with sensitivity and humor. I found the research very informative, and enjoyed the reading group guide and questions for discussion (ideal for book clubs).
Highly recommend, THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET for anyone enjoying humor, strong women characters, and historical fiction--very entertaining! I look forward to following this newfound and talented author.