Sarah Jane Gilman ‘s debut novel, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is fabulous! Jumping from present to past, and back again, seventy years of American history unfolds through the recollections of ultimate anti- hero Lillian Dunkle, formally known as Malka Treynovsky. Barely escaping the Russian pogroms, an original plan to immigrate to South Africa goes array. Malka and her family find themselves living in the squalor of Manhattan’s lower East side in 1913. The streets teem with sweaty humanity, a far cry from the pavements of gold that Malka and her father believed would greet them.
In short order, Malka is crippled by the horse of an Italian ices peddler, abandoned and then rescued at the last moment by the peddler himself, who riddled with guilt takes her in.
Smart, snarky, grief stricken and bitter, Malka grows up determined to grab hold of the American dream, no matter what it takes to achieve. She shrewdly juggles her personal self with her public persona as her fame and fortune grows. The motherly, lighted hearted woman the media dotes on, merely an ideal carefully created for the part.
We like her, we loath her, we’re shocked by her. We admire her grit. She makes us laugh she makes us cringe. She is one of the most compelling protagonists to come along in quite some time and we won’t soon forget her.
But there is another important character in this story, the city itself. Gilman’s infinite love of New York is apparent through out. Meticulous attention to detail provides a rich picture of a vibrant city pushing it’s way into modern times.
Heartbreak and humor, biting commentary and dreamers who dare to dream big.
And ice cream, lots of ice cream-make for a most perfect summer read!