The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street: A Novel Info

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An epic story of a fierce young immigrant's rise to
become the greatest ice cream maker in America until her past begins to
catch up with her putting everything she has spent her life building at
stake in this "upside-down, funhouse treat (USA
Today)
."

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. She'll do anything to keep her life from
falling apart.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street: A Novel:

4

Mar 02, 2014

I really enjoyed this book, but unfortunately it suffers from "chick lit cover syndrome". It's a smart, engrossing story about a brilliant and complicated woman that will most likely get overlooked due to the cheesy cover, which puts one in mind of shoes, and cupcakes, and yogurt, and tampons. Ignore the cover and read it anyway!
2

Jun 03, 2014

If I hadn't been reading this for a book club, I'd have put it away unfinished. I didn't like the main character of Lillian at ALL. Typically, main characters show growth, but Lillian narrates the story as a 76-year-old woman. She even speaks yiddish when she didn't grow up Jewish. Every time she said "So sue me," or "Darlings," I wanted to pelt her with ice cream. Her personality is a caricature. Despite her tough life, however, I liked how her business smarts were always evident. But darlings, If I hadn't been reading this for a book club, I'd have put it away unfinished. I didn't like the main character of Lillian at ALL. Typically, main characters show growth, but Lillian narrates the story as a 76-year-old woman. She even speaks yiddish when she didn't grow up Jewish. Every time she said "So sue me," or "Darlings," I wanted to pelt her with ice cream. Her personality is a caricature. Despite her tough life, however, I liked how her business smarts were always evident. But darlings, I really didn't like her or the book. So sue me. ...more
4

Apr 09, 2017

You'll want to fill your freezer with your favorite ice cream before starting this book. It's a rags to riches story about a Russian Jewish immigrant girl, Malka Treynovsky, who is transformed to a successful Ice Cream Queen, Lillian Dunkle.

Six year old Malka and her family arrived in New York City in 1913. They found that America was nothing like what they saw in the moving pictures, and were living in poverty. Three months later a horse pulling a cart of Italian ices ran over Malka and You'll want to fill your freezer with your favorite ice cream before starting this book. It's a rags to riches story about a Russian Jewish immigrant girl, Malka Treynovsky, who is transformed to a successful Ice Cream Queen, Lillian Dunkle.

Six year old Malka and her family arrived in New York City in 1913. They found that America was nothing like what they saw in the moving pictures, and were living in poverty. Three months later a horse pulling a cart of Italian ices ran over Malka and crippled her. She was abandoned by her family, but taken into the household of the Italian peddler where she learned the basics of making ice cream and changed her name to Lillian.

She married Albert Dunkle, a handsome but illiterate man, who is an excellent mechanic. Between Lillian's business sense and Albert's mechanical ability, they go from a single ice cream truck to hundreds of franchises across America. They had their big breakthrough when they developed soft serve ice cream. Although Lillian was the driving force behind Dunkle's Ice Cream, constantly creating new flavors, it was the man who got the credit in that era. As Lillian achieved fame and success, she also became brassy and difficult. She was so totally consumed by the business that she did not give time to personal relationships.

There's a lot of dark humor, Jewish and Italian expressions, and historical details in the story. While Lillian is often unlikable in her later years, a look back at her history as the homely, abandoned, crippled girl makes one understand many of her actions. At times the older Lillian seemed a little over the top, but then the real Leona Helmsley would come to mind. It's an interesting story of a complex character--and the ice cream is an added enticement. ...more
4

May 19, 2014

Gilman certainly makes a grand entrance with her debut novel The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. With her stellar writing style, spot on characterization and well researched plush historical tarp both author and novel impress.

A rags to riches tale of Malka Bialystoker/Lillian Dunkle, a Russian immigrant turned America's queen of the creamy confection ice cream.

Spanning from the early 1900's into the 1980's, Gilman holds no punches regarding the description of the times and hardships faced Gilman certainly makes a grand entrance with her debut novel The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. With her stellar writing style, spot on characterization and well researched plush historical tarp both author and novel impress.

A rags to riches tale of Malka Bialystoker/Lillian Dunkle, a Russian immigrant turned America's queen of the creamy confection ice cream.

Spanning from the early 1900's into the 1980's, Gilman holds no punches regarding the description of the times and hardships faced by immigrants. Brilliantly painted, we understand the misery suffered by those trying to eke by, understanding their drive to succeed and thrive. Hardships faced by many, feast or famine, rise or fall, challenges faced by all.

Gilman perfects characterization, humor and a wonderful historical backdrop. Her writing possess a rhythmically prompt feel with plenty of wit pulling the reader into the depths of the entire novel. Lillian's character is multidimensional, leaving the reader torn between love and hate along with empathy and disdain. Lillian reminds me of Leona Helmsley, Tom Carvel and good egg Bob McAllister. Selecting ice cream as a focal point Gilman excels in the presentation of the history of this luscious delight most enjoy.

A female protagonist with a survivor mentality, not short on moxie, full of tenacity and intelligence, Lillian steals the show. A character driven story with a truly memorable character, undoubtedly Lillian with have her share of allies and adversaries, either way she will have your undivided attention leaving you with plenty of laughs along the way.

A wonderful debut effort, completely entertaining with a spunky firecracker albeit controversial female antihero protagonist. Well done on all points. Highly recommend, Gilman has made her presence duly noticed. Outstanding.

A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review ...more
2

Jul 18, 2014

The writer's constant use of the term "so sue me", and addressing the readers as "Darlings", I found to be cliched and extremely annoying, and this was after reading only about 70 pages! The main character of Malka/Lillian became less and less likable as the story progressed. The book needed a glossary for 'Yiddish' expressions, except, of course, for the stereotypical expressions of bubeleh, kindeleh, maideleh, schmucks. schlemiel, oy vey, sprinkled throughout page after page.

As Lillian goes The writer's constant use of the term "so sue me", and addressing the readers as "Darlings", I found to be cliched and extremely annoying, and this was after reading only about 70 pages! The main character of Malka/Lillian became less and less likable as the story progressed. The book needed a glossary for 'Yiddish' expressions, except, of course, for the stereotypical expressions of bubeleh, kindeleh, maideleh, schmucks. schlemiel, oy vey, sprinkled throughout page after page.

As Lillian goes from a likeable young girl to the matriarch of her family's booming business I tended to like her less and less and she became someone I hardly recognized. Some of her speech, specifically when she referred to people as 'darlings' and bringing her small dog everywhere she went, reminded me of the infamous Zsa Zsa Gabor. But her incessant mean streak had a strong Leona Helmsley (the original 'Queen of Mean') feel to it. This combination of overly exaggerated arrogance and nastiness got old fast and didn't endear her to me in the least. Her constant use of Yiddish slang, after she was raised by Italian Catholics was ridiculous. I didn't love it: so sue me. ...more
2

Jun 13, 2014

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 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 ...more
3

Sep 18, 2014

My Review: I picked up this book from my local library because I was interested in a 'rags to riches' storyline and while this certainly was that kind of book it took on a different tone than I was expecting.

The book started out strong but my interest and the momentum of the storyline started to waver about halfway through especially as the business side of the storyline took the lead. Some of the ice cream information given was interesting but I wanted more detail about the characters and My Review: I picked up this book from my local library because I was interested in a 'rags to riches' storyline and while this certainly was that kind of book it took on a different tone than I was expecting.

The book started out strong but my interest and the momentum of the storyline started to waver about halfway through especially as the business side of the storyline took the lead. Some of the ice cream information given was interesting but I wanted more detail about the characters and progression of the storyline.

Unfortunately I didn't feel whole-heartedly engaged in the storyline. As Lillian goes from a likeable young girl to the matriarch of her family's booming business I tended to like her less and less and she became someone I hardly recognized. Some of her speech, specifically when she referred to people as 'darlings' and bringing her small dog everywhere she went, reminded me of the infamous Zsa Zsa Gabor. But her incessant mean streak had a strong Leona Helmsley (the original 'Queen of Mean') feel to it. This combination of overly exaggerated arrogance and nastiness got old fast and didn't endear her to me in the least.

This view of the character felt very disjointed with the young girl/young woman that I had just read about. I truly love tough, sassy old ladies (my Nana was queen of sassy ol' ladies!) but Lillian came off as much more of a clichéd, rich old dame who doesn't give a rat's patoot what anyone thinks of her. I also couldn't imagine my Grandma or Nana doing some of the things that Lillian does with her grandson.

In the end, my favourite part of this book was seeing what life was like for new immigrants in NYC. While this book kept my interest enough for me to finish the book, in the end I was left a little disappointed with the pace and character development since I felt that it was overly long and Lillian came off as little more than a cliché.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

** This book review, as well as hundreds more, can also be found on my blog, The Baking Bookworm (www.thebakingbookworm.blogspot.ca). ...more
5

Oct 13, 2019

Disclaimer: I may be a little biased, due to my lifelong love affair with ice cream.

This is a delicious story, despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that there is nothing sweet about the protagonist: Lillian Dunkle. Despite her grandmotherly, good-ole-family-values TV persona, the Queen of Ice Cream hates kids, with the exception of her grandson, Jason, with whom she enjoys smoking pot and listening to new music. Lillian is a snarky, kleptomaniac, alcoholic "wisenheimer" who prefers a Disclaimer: I may be a little biased, due to my lifelong love affair with ice cream.

This is a delicious story, despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that there is nothing sweet about the protagonist: Lillian Dunkle. Despite her grandmotherly, good-ole-family-values TV persona, the Queen of Ice Cream hates kids, with the exception of her grandson, Jason, with whom she enjoys smoking pot and listening to new music. Lillian is a snarky, kleptomaniac, alcoholic "wisenheimer" who prefers a G&T to ice cream and is facing trial for tax evasion and assaulting a child on her kiddies' TV show.

Her sweeping story spans continents, cultures and decades. The author deftly interwove the rags-to-riches tale with world history in general and the history of ice cream in particular. It is a fascinating, funny and touching reading experience. Although Lillian is anything but likeable, she is a relatable, multifaceted and deeply human character, which makes her excellent company. Highly recommended! ...more
5

Jun 02, 2014

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 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 ***
Read my full review here: http://www.ivoryowlreviews.blogspot.c... ...more
5

Oct 11, 2017

I REALLY REALLY liked it. Fun story about a young Jewish girl that gets abandoned by dad and a Mother that detests her and the life she has. Follows her on her journey of owning her own ice cream empire while she screws people over and carma coming and going. Very funny. I enjoyed.
3

Jun 21, 2016

As a child, Malka Treynovsky immigrated to the United States with her family. She dreamed of being rich and having a happy family life. However, after arriving, the Treynovsky family could only find a place to live in an overcrowded tenement in the Jewish section of the lower east side in New York City. The family struggled to survive, and things continued to get worse.

With luck, guile, and determination Malka is able to capitalize on a series of events to achieve considerable fame and fortune, As a child, Malka Treynovsky immigrated to the United States with her family. She dreamed of being rich and having a happy family life. However, after arriving, the Treynovsky family could only find a place to live in an overcrowded tenement in the Jewish section of the lower east side in New York City. The family struggled to survive, and things continued to get worse.

With luck, guile, and determination Malka is able to capitalize on a series of events to achieve considerable fame and fortune, and to acquire a new name—Lillian. But achieving her goals exacts a high price and, in Lillian’s case, some undesirable consequences.

This sweeping novel covers a period of seventy years of U.S. history, and brings to life the experiences of the Jewish and Italian immigrants in New York’s lower east side. ...more
2

Aug 25, 2014

I simply did not like the main character. The darlings and “so sue me” were obnoxious.
5

Jun 15, 2018

A fascinating story overall. I found I needed to get almost halfway through the book before I found myself reaching for it at every spare moment. The early part was interesting, no doubt, but once the main character was fully established the story really took off with all her actions leading to so many interesting directions and consequences. While perhaps a most unlikeable character to many, Malka/Lillian is no doubt a firecracker and a fighter. As a woman business owner in the early 20th A fascinating story overall. I found I needed to get almost halfway through the book before I found myself reaching for it at every spare moment. The early part was interesting, no doubt, but once the main character was fully established the story really took off with all her actions leading to so many interesting directions and consequences. While perhaps a most unlikeable character to many, Malka/Lillian is no doubt a firecracker and a fighter. As a woman business owner in the early 20th century, and really from her early roots as a poor immigrant which totally shaped her life views, she had to fight with both fists swinging (figuratively, although her father taught her fight moves as well) to keep her head and family above water. She was never going back to poverty again. I found her utterly fascinating.

The cover of the hardback edition does not foretell what's between the pages. It looks more like chick-lit but it's truly a good hist fic read. The author clearly researched well and gave us glimpses into the past which I loved reading. I didn't realize we would get such an interesting history on ice cream! Totally worth the time. ...more
3

May 24, 2014

When she was the 6 year old Malka it was nearly a 4 star. But I am very generous in stretching to a 3 star for the rest of this book. Malka's trouble-maker personality stays constant throughout and the writing skill is easy read. Although the cliché phrases of Yiddish and Italian as colloquial language inserts tended to irritate me as just too cutesy/pat for the territory.

I'm a real, real hard audience on this one. I'm first generation and lived behind the store, was on the fruit wagon, opened When she was the 6 year old Malka it was nearly a 4 star. But I am very generous in stretching to a 3 star for the rest of this book. Malka's trouble-maker personality stays constant throughout and the writing skill is easy read. Although the cliché phrases of Yiddish and Italian as colloquial language inserts tended to irritate me as just too cutesy/pat for the territory.

I'm a real, real hard audience on this one. I'm first generation and lived behind the store, was on the fruit wagon, opened the door for the ice man. And some of this story is hokey imagination mixed with a few location and scientific facts, but 75% make believe to the path of food entrepreneurship. Not saying that it wasn't poverty then or that this Dinkle empire couldn't have happened. It's just that the stereotypes overpowered the story more and more as it progressed. Which also doesn't change the fact that success is hard work and diligence and association, far more than luck.
...more
5

May 08, 2014

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 ----- 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, THE ICE 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.
...more
3

Dec 03, 2018

3.5 Stars - Interesting book

I liked this book, but I did not like main character even when I consider her rough life. Disclaimer: just because you’ve had a rough life doesn’t give you license to be a dick horrible.

Susan Gilman tells the story Malka Treynovsky, a Russian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island with her parents and sisters in 1913. She’s injured in a terrible accident and her world is turned upside — even more than it already was — yet she works hard and creates an ice cream empire. 3.5 Stars - Interesting book

I liked this book, but I did not like main character even when I consider her rough life. Disclaimer: just because you’ve had a rough life doesn’t give you license to be a dick horrible.

Susan Gilman tells the story Malka Treynovsky, a Russian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island with her parents and sisters in 1913. She’s injured in a terrible accident and her world is turned upside — even more than it already was — yet she works hard and creates an ice cream empire.

The immigrant story depicted, particularly in the first half of the book, is spot on — at least from what I’ve read. The horrible conditions getting to America, the brash reality of the Lower East Side (Orchard Street) and life in early 20th century New York ring true. I could picture exactly what the author was writing. I’ve been to Orchard Street, I’ve stayed on Orchard Street, and visited the Tenement Museum (sidetone: highly recommend), and everything Gilman writes fits my idea of what life was like.

My major problem with this book is the main character: Malka Treynovsky (or Lillian Dunkle if you prefer). She’s mean, defensive, has substance abuse and mental health problems, and is just mean. Look, I get that she overcome impossible odds to be a successful millionaire and on that ascent she never received her proper dues because of her gender. She started from nothing, had everything, still had everything and yet nothing by the end. It’s actually quite heartbreaking. Let’s break this down further.

As a mother, and let me say that I hesitate to criticize mom’s even fictional ones because I’m not one, she wasn’t great. Her mother was awful to her, (view spoiler)[abandoned her after a traumatizing accident and before that constantly blamed little Malka for the horribleness that was their LES New York immigrant experience (hide spoiler)]. Yet as she became a mother, she wasn’t much better. I’m particularly thinking of older Lillian. She was awful to her son, just awful. She, in turn, became her mother and she so clearly did not see that.

Likewise, she wasn’t a great wife. She lied and went behind Bert’s back multiple times. Yet he loved her so much he let it go (when he knew about it). She’s insecure upon marriage and that, for some reason, turns to bitterness.

With the main character, Gilman illustrates how important dealing with trauma via mental health professionals is, and how terrible substance abuse is. Yes, I know that in the ‘80s, when we read about older Lil, that M.H. services were much more taboo than they are today but lord, she had been through so much she needed professional help. She didn’t get it so she turned to alcohol.

She’s mean, dramatic, and defensive. Her background, history, explains those attitudes but doesn’t excuse it. I mean (view spoiler)[she punched a 7 year old child in the face… on TV (hide spoiler)] for Christ’s sake! Her narration, as the book is in first person narration, is condescending. If I read one more “so sue me” or “darlings” I might vomit. By the end I was rolling my eyes at those words, ridiculous.

However, with all that I will also say that she overcame incredible odds to be a strong, successful business women in an industry (world really) dominated by men — men who lied to her and treated her like she was less-than. I will not deny that she’s smart and deserved her success. She just didn’t deal with some stuff in the best way.

Do I recommend this one? Hmm… Maybe. I think it’s a fascinating immigrant story. I much prefer the first half to the second. But Lillian/Malka is a fascinating character and her development (albeit not an ideal one) is fascinating. If it appeals to you, I’d advise you give it a try. ...more
5

Jun 02, 2014

A fantastic debut novel! I couldn’t have loved it more. I almost passed it over because while I actually like the cover art, it confused me as to what type of book it really was. But I am a sucker for a good immigrant story, and the whole ice cream twist seemed like an original idea – and it was. Though definitely very humorous in parts, it is a more serious work than the cover suggests; perfect for readers of literary and historical fiction alike.

Lillian Dunkle is a terrific antihero—and funny A fantastic debut novel! I couldn’t have loved it more. I almost passed it over because while I actually like the cover art, it confused me as to what type of book it really was. But I am a sucker for a good immigrant story, and the whole ice cream twist seemed like an original idea – and it was. Though definitely very humorous in parts, it is a more serious work than the cover suggests; perfect for readers of literary and historical fiction alike.

Lillian Dunkle is a terrific antihero—and funny as heck. Because of her hard-working, self-made, persevering nature, you just can’t help but root for her no matter what dreadful situations she gets herself into. The setting was absolutely perfect and really captured the feel of an early twentieth century America, beginning with Lillian’s/Malka’s young life in the New York tenements, and up through the years, as both Lillian and the ice cream business must adapt to changing times. All of the supporting characters were well-crafted and fully imagined, really bringing the story to life. A lot of research went into the history of ice cream making—with parts loosely based on Tom Carver and his accidental invention of soft serve—and it shows in every detail.

Usually there is always something I feel could be better, but in this case it is perfect as is. It was the first book in forever I didn’t want to end, and it even made my “favorites” list. I’m not familiar with Susan Jane Gilman’s non-fiction, but I read in the Q&A that she has always wanted to write fiction. She truly has made her place here, and I hope she writes more like this.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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4

Mar 14, 2017

I've long been a sucker for books that cover huge swaths of American history, and this one fits the bill. The story of a Russian immigrant who arrives in New York shortly before WWI, as told from her perspective in the 1980s, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street tells not only of how lives change, but how the life of everyday people changed.

Lillian Dunkle, who came to the country as Malka Treynovsky, is not a likable character. She grew up in a poor village in Russia, then the tenements of the I've long been a sucker for books that cover huge swaths of American history, and this one fits the bill. The story of a Russian immigrant who arrives in New York shortly before WWI, as told from her perspective in the 1980s, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street tells not only of how lives change, but how the life of everyday people changed.

Lillian Dunkle, who came to the country as Malka Treynovsky, is not a likable character. She grew up in a poor village in Russia, then the tenements of the Lower East Side. She was hit by a cart and had to learn how to walk again. She was separated from her family. She was forced to work at a young age. She's smart and ambitious and ruthless. I didn't like her, but I understood her and sympathized with her. The moment when she got to visit the White House and reflect on how far she had come was a moving one.

Her voice could be a bit cliche (I didn't need quite so many "darlings"), but she was a well-rounded person. Gilman did a good job creating her world and the characters around Lillian, though I do wish I had a better read on Bert, Lillian's husband. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Lillian and her grandson Jason.

The story and characters propelled me through, and I enjoyed reading about the growth of ice cream in the 20th century (though it made me want to go out and get some Carvel).

And though this book is in no way political, it seems it would be helpful for both liberal and conservatives to read. For one, it shows how easy it was to immigrate to the US just 100 years ago. Lillian does indeed bootstrap her way to fame and fortune--the American dream. But her story also illustrates how exceptional her story is, and she herself is quite progressive. ...more
4

Jul 22, 2014

As usual, I leave plot summary to other reviewers and just share my opinion, so there may be some spoilers here. I enjoyed this historical novel a lot. The picture of 1910's Lower East Side's squalor, poverty, and misery were a good antidote to the more commonly written immigrant experience excellent; same for descriptions of 1950's polio epidemic and communist scare. The protagonist Lillian has a unique voice, reminding me of Joan Rivers. Funny, egotistical, poignant, brash. I wanted to cheer As usual, I leave plot summary to other reviewers and just share my opinion, so there may be some spoilers here. I enjoyed this historical novel a lot. The picture of 1910's Lower East Side's squalor, poverty, and misery were a good antidote to the more commonly written immigrant experience excellent; same for descriptions of 1950's polio epidemic and communist scare. The protagonist Lillian has a unique voice, reminding me of Joan Rivers. Funny, egotistical, poignant, brash. I wanted to cheer her on as she overcame one obstacle after another, close my eyes as she took her alcoholic falls, cry for her losses, and sometimes even slap her for behaving so badly. There were times, particularly towards the end, where I wanted to shout, "Stop, don't do that," but she did it anyways. At least there seemed to be a final chance for redemption, which was appropriate since I finished the book just after Yom Kippur. ...more
5

Jun 08, 2014

It’s a rags to riches to . . . well, let’s not give anything away. “The Ice Cream Queen”s story is not a new tale, but the novel is bright and clever and fresh and lots of fun to read. It’s probably the character of Malka/Ninella/Lillian who is smart, foolish, fearless, huge-hearted and hard-hearted that makes it spark. Her love for her husband is such a sweet thing, her longing for her lost family (which sometimes isn’t lost enough) is heartbreaking. Even the stories of the Lower East Side have It’s a rags to riches to . . . well, let’s not give anything away. “The Ice Cream Queen”s story is not a new tale, but the novel is bright and clever and fresh and lots of fun to read. It’s probably the character of Malka/Ninella/Lillian who is smart, foolish, fearless, huge-hearted and hard-hearted that makes it spark. Her love for her husband is such a sweet thing, her longing for her lost family (which sometimes isn’t lost enough) is heartbreaking. Even the stories of the Lower East Side have a new feel in Susan Jane Gilman’s hands.

The cover is pretty but gives the impression that this is a book about a 1950s drive-in carhop. Of all the things you could call Lillian, that is not one. Although, come to think of it, if it would have sold more ice cream . . .I hope the cover doesn’t lose readers for this plump treat of a novel.
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5

Aug 10, 2014

A tale of horror, spunk and our heroine with a tongue that could cut heads off and does is fantastic. Note: The cover is awful, awful, awful, awful. Doesn't relate to story at all.

Love the tone, of a deep buoyant pathos. what immigrants went through horrible. A good read!
5

Jul 21, 2014

One of the BEST books I have ever read. I would give it a 6 if I could. Excellent read.
4

Jun 16, 2019

A rags-to-riches to the tax-man story of struggle, survival, heartbreak, love, loss, ambition, failure and success of the American dream. There were many diverse personalities and characters whose lives were interwoven throughout the decades. They all had their own motivations, ambitions, faults and idiosyncrasies ... loved some, hated some, but could understand most of them on at least some level.

I enjoyed the characters as well as learning some of the rich and controversial () history of ice A rags-to-riches to the tax-man story of struggle, survival, heartbreak, love, loss, ambition, failure and success of the American dream. There were many diverse personalities and characters whose lives were interwoven throughout the decades. They all had their own motivations, ambitions, faults and idiosyncrasies ... loved some, hated some, but could understand most of them on at least some level.

I enjoyed the characters as well as learning some of the rich and controversial (????) history of ice cream. I was surprised to learn that at one time polio was believed to be caused by ice cream because of an observation that there were more polio cases during summer months when more people ate ice cream. I’m so glad we’ve come as far as we have as a society since the 1950’s! I’m looking at you cow flatulating climate-change believers. ...more
5

Sep 14, 2014


I am utterly enchanted by Susan Jane Gilman’s novel. This is an immigrant story the likes of which I had never read before. Even the living conditions in Manhattan’s Lower East Side are described better than in many novels I’ve read, filled with the foul smells and ceaseless din of life, with despair and hopelessness. The events in little Malka’s life, the repeated losses and abandonment, the utter poverty and searing loneliness—topped by becoming crippled—would have broken any child. Instead,
I am utterly enchanted by Susan Jane Gilman’s novel. This is an immigrant story the likes of which I had never read before. Even the living conditions in Manhattan’s Lower East Side are described better than in many novels I’ve read, filled with the foul smells and ceaseless din of life, with despair and hopelessness. The events in little Malka’s life, the repeated losses and abandonment, the utter poverty and searing loneliness—topped by becoming crippled—would have broken any child. Instead, the story of her struggles, of her resourcefulness and wits is inspiring.

Rich details fill every page, and the language is fluid. The pace of this novel that spans over a lifetime moves well. The character of her husband, Albert/ Bert, an Adonis-looking yet illiterate, is beautifully drawn and therefore the relationship between the homely, disabled Malka (renamed Lillian,) is believable. We cheer the young couple as they fight to survive in an inhospitable world.

I do not believe that the author meant for us to love the old woman Lillian has become. She is irascible, demanding, impatient, insulting. Through betrayals, biased against her disability, her inferior status as a woman who built a business that is always viewed as her husband’s—we see her developing into a shrewd business person. But she becomes obsessed with success and with keeping her eye on the competition so she cannot even enjoy the company of her husband who still adores her. When we meet her as an old woman, she acts as if rules of society no longer apply to her. She is an unlikeable character, but again, the author made her authentic. And we never forget for a moment what she had to overcome to get to this place….

This novel is so smooth and detailed, I could taste it as if it were ice cream…. I recommend this book to book groups as there is much to be discussed.
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5

Jan 30, 2018

I just finished reading The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street and really wishing I had ice cream. As a well-written book, Susan Gilman tells the story of an immigrant coming to America wanting to live the "American dream" as she achieves the goal of going from living in the poorest neighborhoods to living the life of the rich many life lessons and educational lessons provided as this book is definitely a page-turner. A wonderful read about my favorite food.

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