Summary and book reviews of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Gilman

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

by Susan J. Gilman

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan J. Gilman X
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan J. Gilman
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2014, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 528 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Book Summary

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. No sooner than they land does Malka find herself crippled - and yet survives to shape her own destiny.

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.

Explore Fun Facts about Ice Cream

Excerpt
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

We'd been in America just three months when the horse ran over me. I don't know exactly how old I was. Six perhaps? When I was born, they didn't keep records. All I remember was running down Hester Street, looking for Papa. Overhead, a bleached sky was flanked by rooftops, iron fire escapes. Pigeons circled, street peddlers shouted, chickens squawked; there was the strange, rickety calliope of the organ-grinder. Great upheavals of dust swirled around the pushcarts, making the shop signs swing back and forth like flags. I heard a clop, then I was tumbling. There was a split-second flash of hoof, then a white-hot bolt of pain. Then: nothing.

The horse that trampled me was pulling a penny-ices cart. What a peculiar twist of fate that turned out to be, no? If I'd been crippled by, say, a rag man or a coal vendor, I would never have become Lillian Dunkle, as the world knows her today. Certainly, I would never have ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Lillian frequently attributes moments in her life to fate: her accident, her arrival in New York City the same year that continuous freezing was invented, et cetera. Do you believe it was fate? How does Lillian's assertion about fate "shaping" her destiny square with her story?
  2. Do you like Lillian? Do you understand her? How do these two judgments differ? Would you say she's in any way the hero of the book?
  3. Lillian's world broadens in almost unimaginable ways, from her fleeing the pogroms to heading an ice cream empire. Do you think this is a specifically American story—or could such radical change take place in another country?
  4. At what point does Malka really become Lillian? Is it the baptism, when she changes...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

...Susan Jane Gilman asks the reader to consider the questions what is the truth? and can you ever really know the truth anyway? We can only know so much about a public figure. We can only piece together what we think might be the truth of a matter. And, ultimately, the only person who knows the absolute truth, or what seems to be the absolute truth, is the public figure herself. This conundrum is what makes Lillian so interesting.   (Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

Full Review (776 words).

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Media Reviews

Booklist
An ambitious and lavish immigrant rags-to-riches-to-rags first novel rife with humor and moxie

Library Journal
With its vivid depictions of old New York City tenement life and its tale of the American ice-cream business set against the backdrop of the major events of the 20th century, this rags-to-riches saga will appeal greatly to readers of American historical novels.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Gilman's numerous strengths are showcased, such as character-driven narrative, a ready sense of wit, and a rich historical canvas, in this case based on the unlikely subject of the 20th-century American ice cream industry.

Author Blurb Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You
The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, raised by Italians on New York's Lower East Side, Lillian Dunkle is the archetypal American heroine, and The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is the story of America itself. Brash, brassy, and larger than life, it is a scintillating romp of a book.

Reader Reviews

Robin

Wonderful story
I am an avid reader and read all types of books. I grew up in NY, I am of Jewish descent, and my grand parents were immigrants from Russia. I loved the story, could relate to the family to some extent, though horrified by others, and got lost in her ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The History of Ice Cream

Blue Bell Ice CreamA year ago, the big hullabaloo among residents in my city of Henderson, Nevada was the arrival of Blue Bell Ice Cream from Texas. It is a godsend for the Texans who live here, and a curiosity for the rest of us. Beforehand, supermarkets like WinCo had signs announcing it was coming. The anticipation would not, could not, melt. And then, it was here. And it was good. Especially their Buttered Pecan flavor.

Blue Bell was established in Brenham, Texas in 1907, beginning life as a creamery for excess cream from farmers in the area. At that time, the end product was butter. A few years later, they began making ice cream and delivering it by horse and wagon. But, of course, Blue Bell did not invent ice cream. Who did?

Catherine de MediciLet's go further...

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