Title: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
Author: Susan Jane Gilman
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: June 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
So sue me: I couldn’t put this book down! Lillian Dunkle is a spirited, stubborn, cutthroat, hard-working woman who refuses to let anything get in her way. She refuses to be seen as a cripple, or as a to be considered useless. She works her whole life to work her way out of and keep away from the squalor of Mulberry street where other poor Russian, Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century. Her family comes to America with nothing, and most of them die with nothing. Lillian casts aside her birth name, Malka, and her past, becoming the ruthless president of Dunkle’s Ice Cream.
Her story is the rags to riches, make it in America story. With hard work, determination, and a little bit (well, more than a little bit, darlings) of backstabbing she builds an empire out of nothing. It seems like everything gets in Lillian’s way of success, but she defeats each hurdle in stride. She is told she’s ugly and she’ll never marry, yet her partner, Albert, is the most supportive man a girl could ask for. Not only are they lovers, they are business partners as well, complimenting one another to make an indestructible team.
Lillian is a true-to-life kind of character. Sure there are a lot of good qualities, but there are definitely some bad qualities as well and those things that sometimes annoy you about her get her into trouble in the end. But Lillian only ever wants to be successful, and through that she gains the reader’s empathy. She’s kind of crazy and really sarcastic. She takes the story to a whole new level.
The past and the present excellently intertwined. This is a faced-paced and moving read that exposes the hardships of immigration in the early 1900s, as well as the realities of living and trying to succeed through the Great Depression, the wars, and everything in between. Definitely an excellent read!