THE ICE CREAM QUEEN of ORCHARD STREET
by Susan Jane Gilman
Being a native New Yorker, I’ve always been interested in the history of this exciting, dynamic city…New York! I admit I’m a bit obsessed about the city’s Lower East Side in the early 1900’s when it was teeming with immigrants living in tenements…what their lives were like every day. Enter Susan Jane Gilman , making a grand entrance with her debut novel, THE ICE CREAM QUEEN of ORCHARD STREET. With her easy style of writing, relatable characterization and well researched historical information, both author and novel are impressive. Here’s the cover I created for the book…hard to see, but the children are eating ice cream cones!
This is an immigrant story like none before it. 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 neverending din of life, with despair and hopelessness. Six year old Malka Treynovsky and her family arrived at Ellis Island in New York in 1913…Jewish immigrants from Russia. They found that America was very different from what they expected. Through heartbreaking events, Malka lost her family and came to live with an immigrant Italian family…the Dinellos. It’s with them that Malka gained a new family, a Christian name (Lillian,) and learned the art of making ice cream…but she never felt like she “belonged.”
The book jumped between past and present, (the present being the early 1980’s,) to tell of Malka’s transformation from part of the Dinello family (where she was called Ninella,) into Lillian Dunkle, the Ice Cream Queen. The book progressed through her marriage to Albert Dunkle, both her husband and her business partner. Lillian was the committed, driving and creative force behind the ice cream empire they built…(Albert’s strength was his mechanical ability.) But, in an era when women and the drive for success in business did not mix, Lillian faced obstacles every step of the way…each one making her stronger.
This rags to riches tale with world history in general and the history of ice cream in particular, brought out the full range of emotions in me. Although Lillian was anything but likeable as she became more successful, she was relatable, multifaceted and deeply human! The author holds nothing back regarding her description of the times and hardships faced by immigrants. Brilliantly painted, we understand the misery of those trying to squeak by, understanding their drive to succeed and thrive. Hardships and challenges were faced by all.
THE ICE CREAM QUEEN of ORCHARD STREET is a love letter to New York City and to the American dream… for all those who worked so hard and pulled themselves up to a better life than they had in the country they left. I don’t hesitate to recommend this book!