The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

Title: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
Author: Susan Jane Gilman
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
ISBN: 9780446578936
Number of Pages: 512 
How I Got It: NetGalley
Format: Kindle

NetGalley Description: 

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.

My Review:
Lillian Dunkle is in legal hot water but she still The Ice Cream Queen. And don't you forget it, darlings!

"Ever since my arrest at NBC, and my conviction for tax evasion, it has become open season on Lillian Dunkle. Never mind that the U.S. embassy was bombed in Beirut. Or that President Reagan has announced he's deploying a missile shield in outer space. Some weasel-faced journalists have nothing more important to do, it seems, than to dig up dirt about me."

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is much more solid and funny than the "fluffy beach-read" cover suggests. The novel opens with Lillian Dunkle introducing herself to her readers and beginning her first person retelling of her life. By the fifth page, we know Lillian is in some trouble but she is far more annoyed by her current situation than upset by it: "WPIX was only a local station, for God's sake. And we aired at 7:00 A.M on a Sunday--A Sunday! And maybe I had had a few drinks. But darlings, you try hosting a kiddie show for thirteen goddamn years." After arriving in America as Malka Treynovsky Bialystoker, 6 year-old Malka/Lillian and all of her siblings are forced to find work but after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire two years prior, she has a rough time finding a job so she learns to hustle (singing, dancing, and cleaning.) One day, while running around the neighborhood trying to find her father, she is trampled by the Italian Ice man's horse, crushing her leg and leaving her crippled. In a turn of events, the Italian Ice man and his family take Malka home from the hospital and she begins assisting them with making the Italian ices. Malka changes her name to be more American and to more fully integrate herself into her new family. Lillian Dinello works hard and learns everything about the family business, from how to physically crank the machines to profit margins. 
The story progresses through her marriage to Albert Dunkle and her savvy business skills. In an era when women and the drive for success in business did not usually mix, Lillian faces obstacles and each one only makes her stronger. She believes that her hard work makes her superior and says wonderful things like:  "So your eldest brother, Lord Such-and-Such, inherited the family estate, and you, Poor Thing, had to make your fortune in the New World instead? Please. Don't even bother me with that." She is "old school" and definitely makes her opinions known, and like anyone that's had to pull themselves up from the gutter, she has no time for things she considers frivolous and unneccessary such as paperwork:  "Today, if one of our franchises wants to hire a sixteen-year-old to scoop ice cream for a summer, the management is required to provide more information than my entire family was asked to supply at Ellis Island." Which leads to some problems.....
This book is a funny take on what might be behind a headline. When we see something in the news about a rich business person taking a fall, we are rarely sympathetic. Author Susan Jane Gilman lets Lillian show us her side of the story. This book is funny, extremely detailed, and provides a great heroine. 

*** I received this book in exchange for an honest review ***

No comments