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The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
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A clever and complex woman builds an ice cream empire after immigrating from Russia in this stunning novel of power, Prohibition, and performance set against the backdrop of early 20th-century America.
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.
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 become a legend at all.
The public, however, always assumes that my fortunes are due solely to my husband. Oh, how the media hates its queens. How it begrudges us! That horrible photograph the newspapers keep running now—the one that makes me look like Joan Crawford getting an enema—is all the proof you need. So quick they are to judge!
But let me tell you, darlings: the Wonder Tundra, with chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles, M&M’s, or chopped peanuts mixed in to order. Our signature novelty cake, the Nilla Rilla, molded into the shape of our trademark cartoon monkey, coated in shaved coconut with the secret cookie-crunch layer inside. We’d first marketed this for birthdays and Father’s Day, but do you realize how many of you ordered versions of this for your weddings? We did one custom cake for a reception out in Syosset that fed 215 people. It would’ve made the Guinness Book of World Records if Bert had remembered the goddamn camera.
The Tower of Sprinkles. The Mint Everest. The Fudgie Puppie. All of these—all of these, millions sold every year—were my concoctions, my ideas. In our heyday we had 302 stores nationwide. We revolutionized production, franchising, marketing. You think this was an accident? President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself once christened me “The Ice Cream Queen of America.” I have the signed photograph of us (with Mamie, of course—all pearls and bad teeth) shaking hands in the Rose Garden. I’m wearing my first-ever Chanel suit, too, very nearly the color of strawberry ice cream. (And this was years before Jackie Kennedy, thank you!) Today I have no fewer than three dozen engraved plaques, trophies, ribbons. A cut-glass bowl. Even a ghastly pewter commemorative ashtray—how I’d love to give it away, except what do you do with something with your name on it from the Children’s Association for Diabetes Research, for God’s sake? Plus an entire wall of certificates—from the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. The American Dairy Association. Dow Chemical. Even the Institute of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India. Yogis love ice cream, apparently. Who knew?
Yet when people hear my name now, all they think of are sordid headlines. A single incident on live television. Claims of tax evasion and an arrest—wrongful, too, need I remind you? Unfunny jokes on Johnny Carson, that schlemiel. You want funny? Please. I know from funny.
Just yesterday my grandson informed me that I’m even an answer in the latest edition of Trivial Pursuit. “Wow, Grandma, how awesome is that?” he said. Live long enough, I suppose, you see everything. But it’s a witch-hunt. 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.
But, oh. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me start back at the beginning, before satellite trucks were parked across the street, blocking my driveway. Before our “Sundaes on Saturdays” campaign, the Mocktail Milkshakes, and Spreckles the Clown. I’ll begin on the sweltering Lower East Side of Manhattan, with the peddler with the horse-drawn cart: A rotund, sweating man. Salvatore Dinello. His last name was stenciled on the side of his wagon in flaking red and gold paint. DINELLO’S ICES. He was the last of his kind, really. Most other vendors had already started working for wholesalers by then. Mr. Dinello wore a slouch cap and a brown canvas smock. Instead of shouting like the other hawkers, he sang. “I-SEES, I-SEES.” Like an aria. Oh, it was marvelous. I could hear his baritone all the way down Hester Street, above the incredible din.
Dinello’s Ices came in lemon and sometimes cherry. They had the consistency of snow. Once, when Flora and I were supposed to be fetching dinner, I bought a scoop for us instead. We devoured it—cherry, I remember—and our mouths turned lurid, candy red. It was delicious. It was a delirium. But immediately afterward—oh, such guilt we felt! That two cents was supposed to go for a potato. From then on, I tried to keep my distance. But whenever we were on Hester Street, I’d watch longingly as Mr. Dinello scooped a small, glittering mound into his tiny glass cup for a customer. The customer licked the cup clean, then handed it back to Mr. Dinello, who rinsed it out in a zinc pail dangling from the back of his wagon. He used the same cup for each person. That’s just how it was back then.
Our family didn’t have a penny when we stepped off the boat. But whose did? The people who arrived in America with money, their stories aren’t interesting. 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.
At the time of my accident, we were living in a tenement on Orchard Street, on the fourth floor in the back. We paid a tailor named Mr. Lefkowitz two dollars a week to let us sleep in his parlor. Mama took cushions from the settee and spread them across a pair of creaky wooden crates. During the day she worked for Mr. Lefkowitz cutting patterns with two other women in the front room in a cloud of airborne fibers.
When he wasn’t in the streets himself, Papa worked for Mr. Lefkowitz, too. He pressed shirts with a heavy iron heated up on the stove in the kitchen. When the hot metal hissed against the cotton, it smelled like burnt vanilla. I loved that smell. Years later I tried to re-create it in our laboratory.
My parents worked within seven feet of each other. And yet, they weren’t speaking.
Their plan, you see, hadn’t been to go to America at all.
The night we fled our little village of Vishnev, my mother stitched two hundred rubles into the lining of my coat. Some of it she’d saved herself; the rest had been sent by her brother, my Uncle Hyram, from South Africa. A little secret pocket Mama fashioned, just below my armpit. She jabbed herself with the needle twice, her hands shook so. Too many stories we had heard, of families transported in a wagon, only to be robbed, dumped at a roadside, left for the Cossacks. The week before our departure, Mama refused to have my sisters and me wash either, lest we look too enticing. My gray, boiled-wool overcoat had been Bella’s first, then Rose’s, then Flora’s. (Only Samuel, when he was alive, apparently got new clothes.) The wool was so thin it was a coat more in theory than in practice. “Who would give such rags a second look?” my mother reasoned. “Who would frisk a tiny child with a punim like yours?”
I was the baby of the family, the youngest child in our entire shtetl. I was born after the mobs had retreated, after the ransacked houses had been boarded up, after the shards of bubbled, broken glass had been swept away and the bloodstains scrubbed from floorboards with vinegar. While others moved about Vishnev in a ghostly state of shock, I disrupted the silence as only a happy, oblivious child can.
I pirouetted and hollered and laughed, forgetting to cover my mouth the way Mama instructed. As I wandered about our yard, I sang meandering little songs to myself that I made up. Notes rose in my mouth like carbonation: “The Frog in the Well” and “I Love Chicken” are two I remember. I simply had to sing. It was like swinging my legs when I sat on a stool.
And so sue me: I was curious.
“Mama, why is our barn burned?” I’d ask in a clear voice. “Why is Sol missing an arm?” “How come Etta doesn’t have any parents?”
My mother was a buxom woman with a hawkish, ravaged face. Much of her hair had turned gray years before its time. “This is from you,” she’d say, pointing to each strand. Her hands were rawboned and enormous. They pounded out dough for kreplach and yanked the bloody feathers off unyielding chickens. They hauled basins of water from the well and scrubbed first my sisters and me, then our clothes, then our linens, into a vicious state of purity every Friday afternoon.
Within a second these hands reached over and gave me such a wallop as I had ever known. Soon, it seemed, almost every time I opened my mouth, they were arriving in a clop on my ear or with a thwuck! on my backside, accompanied by, “I said, ‘That’s enough,’ Malka.” Or “Don’t be such a wisenheimer, Malka.” Or simply, “Oy! You!” At synagogue on Fridays, Mama frowned to the other women. “The mouth on that one,” she clucked, motioning in my direction. “It’s going to cause us nothing but tsuris.”
Of our journey out of Russia I remember very little, except lying beneath a pile of cabbages in a wagon. Mama had packed me into the sad gray wool coat as if it were a suit of armor. “Anybody lays a hand on your pocket, I want you to give such a geschrei as they have never heard, bubeleh. Don’t let anyone near this coat, not even Papa, you understand?”
I nodded. My mother rarely called me bubeleh. I felt inordinately special, but a moment later, when she had finished adjusting my collar, she frowned. “With a face like yours, no one may ever marry you,” she said. “But at least you can put that big mouth to some use.”
Men with lanterns at checkpoints ordered us around in furious whispers. Robbers and Cossacks were waiting at every turn to leap out from the woods, I imagined, and I clutched my coat tightly around me all day, while in my head I practiced giving such a geschrei as the world had ever heard. But with our family’s entire meager fortune tucked beneath my armpit, the truth was, I didn’t dare sing or hum or even speak out loud at all.
When we finally arrived in Hamburg—days, perhaps weeks later—we waited on benches at the Hilfsverein’s processing center. I have a vague memory of dormitories, of endless, dismal corridors. Penned-in chaos. Anxiety. And oh, the human stink! Everyone acting like beggars and handled as such. Let me tell you: I know some dairy cows in Vermont these days who receive better treatment. Don’t get me started.
One afternoon my father returned to the bench with a piece of paper that had been stamped many times. “Come,” my mother ordered. Marching me into the privy, she latched the door. The stench was unbearable. “Arms out.” As she peeled me out of my scratchy, dust-caked coat, she felt around. The rubles were no longer there. Someone had robbed me in my sleep.
But Mama reached deeper into the lining and finally dug out the damp, creased bills. As she counted and recounted them, I exhaled proudly.
“What?” She shot me a look. “You want I should applaud the sun each day for rising?”
She unlocked the door and motioned in toward the courtyard. Other children’s shrieks of laughter could be heard. “Go.” She sighed. “Raise all the ruckus you want now.”
Our plan was to sail to Cape Town. Uncle Hyram ran a dry-goods store in the Transvaal with some cousins from Vilnius. He was apparently a very religious man, Uncle Hyram. Before the pogroms he’d been studying to become a rabbi. I’d never met him, but Bella said he smelled like boiled onions and Rose said he had a tic by his left eye that made you think he was winking at you all the time. Papa didn’t seem to care for him much. He referred to him as “that shmendrik.” But Uncle Hyram wrote letters and dutifully sent money. “Come to South Africa. G-d willing, we can employ you as a bookkeeper, Tillie as a clerk. There’s opportunity enough.”
Cape Town, Cape Town—the name played in my head. Today you have atlases and televisions and libraries. But when I was small, nobody in our shtetl had a globe or a map. None of my sisters had schoolbooks. Where was this “South Africa”? No one knew. When my family went to the shipping office with our paperwork and our life savings—our precious rubles and rands exchanged at exorbitant rates for German marks—those Prussian gonifs, Mama swore—a man on line took us over to a giant, faded map tacked to the wall. This was my first glimpse of the bigger world: an arrangement of squiggles and blobs, grubby with the fingerprints of thousands of salesclerks and immigrants. Pale blue was an “ocean,” light pink was “land.” “Nations” were outlined in lime green. The man pointed to a faded red star smack in the center of the map. “That’s Hamburg,” he explained. Then he swung his finger down to a tiny black bull’s-eye way at the very bottom. “And there’s your Cape Town.”
“Is that where you’re going?” Papa asked.
The man seemed taken aback. “Oh, no. I’m going to America,” he said with a tinge of pride. He pointed to a dot that appeared to be even farther away than South Africa but on a par with Hamburg. “Milwaukee.”
America: Milwaukee. New York. Pittsburgh. Chicago. From the moment we’d arrived at the processing center, we’d been hearing these names spoken with a religious reverence. Ah-MEH-rih-kah. “The goldene medina,” some Jews called it, nattering on rapturously about twenty-four-karat paving stones, its rivers of milk and honey. The steamship companies themselves put up great advertisements showing lavish parties on board their ships carrying passengers toward an American flag unfurling above a waterfall of gold coins. Leaflets were circulated. Everyone but us, it seemed, was going to this Ah-MEH-rih-kah. “They give you free land,” someone said. “My sister writes me that there are trees that rain apples,” said another. “She lives in a place called Connecticut.”
“You step off the boat and they hire you on the spot,” another informed us. “One year and you’re rich.”
My mother, however, dismissed this all as just so much nonsense and wishful thinking. “These meshuggenehs, what do they know?” she clucked. “Since when does anybody not have to work? They are like idiots in love.”
Six tickets for Cape Town were purchased, folded, and carefully tucked back into the secret little pocket in the lining of my coat. I had become our family’s wallet.
Cape Town, Cape Town.
Three days before we were to sail, my sister Rose woke up crying. Rose, in my esteem, was a kvetch. Pale and trembling, she was always moaning about her nervous stomach, her sun rashes, her delicate constitution. She was older than me and pretty like a china cup: I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just stop hogging all the attention all the time. “Mama,” she sobbed, twisting her head around in a panic. “I can’t see. It’s all blurry.”
Within hours Bella, Flora, and my mother couldn’t open their eyes either. They tried to hide it by pretending they were cold and pulling their shawls down low over their foreheads, but their pink, runny eyelids were oozing with glittery crust. They squinted and stumbled about miserably. Rose moaned. Flora wept. Other émigrés at the center quickly moved away from us on the benches, giving us a wide berth. Perhaps somebody tattled; I wouldn’t put it past them. Immigration officials appeared. In an instant my mother and sisters were whisked away into quarantine. “Conjunctivitis,” the doctor explained. Our names were stricken from the ship’s manifest. “All peoples with contagious illnesses are barred from boarding,” the clerk informed my father. “You should know better.”
My father stared at him. “But what are we supposed to do?” he said. “Six fares. They cost us all that we had.”
“As soon as your family is better, you can exchange your tickets, Mr. Treynovsky. Other ships sail for Cape Town later in the season. Until then”—the clerk pointed back toward the crowded benches—“you wait.”
“How long?” my father asked desperately.
The man shrugged.
Papa could only find a little place for us on the floor by the wall. We each sat down heavily in the grime, my father and I. He chewed on his bottom lip and stared straight ahead. I knew for a fact we had only a few marks left, barely enough for a week’s worth of food. It was there in my little pocket, along with our tickets.
“Papa,” I asked, “how long till Mama gets better?”
He gave a start. Whenever I called him “Papa,” he looked surprised. With four girls in his house, he often seemed to have trouble placing me. In Vishnev, from what I understood, Papa had been a peddler of sorts—a trader, a junk man, always bartering goods from one town to another. There was never the same thing in his cart: One week he’d have kettles, then perhaps cucumbers, then fleece. Often he was gone for weeks at a time. He’d been absent for my birth. He had also been away during the pogrom. This no doubt saved his life. However, during their many arguments, my mother was always quick to shout, her voice palsied with recrimination and fury: Had he been home, he might’ve saved my grandfather. Had he been there to defend us, perhaps our barn wouldn’t have been burned to the ground. How was she supposed to protect a family all by herself ? she wanted to know. In fact, she often insisted, as her hysteria mounted, if my father stayed home a bit more, perhaps she’d have had another son instead of four useless daughters. “Look around you—nothing but four mouths to feed and marry off,” she’d cried. “But what do you expect, with you hardly here? How could a boy baby possibly take root?”
Since the day she was married, apparently, my mother had been harvesting grievances; it was like a dowry in reverse. Hearing her litanies of woe, my father just threw up his hands and sighed. “What do you want me to do, Tillie? Do I look like God?”
Now, as I sat beside my father at the detention center, he was like a work of art to me. I’d never seen him in broad daylight before, quite so close up. Throughout the Russian Pale, Papa had been known as an extremely handsome man. The bones of his face, I saw, were strong and pleasingly symmetrical, his eyelashes as long as petals. As I studied him, he seemed to breathe with his whole body. The solid, muscular presence of him in his dark jacket, with his thick, ginger hair curling out from beneath his hat, awed me. My papa. I had never had him all to myself.
I tugged on his coat. “Papa? Will Mama and Rose go blind? Will Flora and Bella?”
Sighing, he shook his head.
“What’s it like to be blind, Papa?” I asked, the words warming in my mouth. “If a person is blind, can they still eat? With a spoon, or only with their hands? Are they allowed to have soup?”
He gave a mirthless little laugh, then unfolded himself and stood up. His dark, storm-gray eyes darted about. Papa was too restless for his own good, Mama often complained. Even at the Sabbath table he jiggled his leg, drummed his fingers on the tabletop. While other fathers could remain hunched over the Torah for hours, Papa studied for only a few minutes before abandoning it and heading out, looking for something to fix, something to trade. Unlike most of the men from Vishnev, he wore his beard clipped close to his face, his hat pushed back rakishly.
Now, stretching, he surveyed the chaos of the detention center—with its crying babies and scolding women—and let out a long, low whistle.
“Kindeleh,” he said, not to me but to the air above my head, “what do you say you and I, we take a walk?”
He held out his hand. Its calluses were smooth, like peeled almonds. “Let’s go explore, yes?” To my great delight, he winked.
We set out together, my father and I: he in his black coat and the dark saucer of his hat, I tiny beside him, a small child dressed the way all children dressed in those days—like miniature adults—in a long frayed skirt, a little hand-crocheted shawl, my horrid gray coat.
Together we stepped into the leafy streets of what was then a jewel of the German Empire, the third-largest port in the world.
Hamburg was laced with canals and ornate lakeside cafés. Its delicate spires pierced the sky like hatpins. Half-timbered houses stood four stories high, crimson geraniums cascading from their rippled windows. Oh, what a beautiful waste!
We happened upon a square, a garden fenced with wrought-iron lace, a fountain bedecked with angels, arcaded buildings. Of course I had never, ever seen anything remotely like this before. For all his travels, neither had Papa. Until we arrived in Hamburg, no one in our family had so much as seen an indoor toilet, a streetcar, an electric light. Even the synagogue back in our shtetl had been lit only with candles and lanterns.
Papa and I stood in the middle of Hamburg’s Neustadt quarter. “That’s something, eh?” he said, staring up at the tower of the Rathaus.
Using the tower as a sort of compass needle, he led us from Strasse to Strasse. “Papa, look.” We marveled before the windows of the Konditorei and Bäckerei; at shops selling fabrics, soaps, ointments; at shelves of porcelain dishes filled with peppermints and glazed fruits. My world, suddenly, had gone to color. On a wide boulevard stood a magnificent entranceway. Bright pictures hung on either side. Papa stopped and pushed his hat back on his head.
“Who builds a thing like this?” he wondered. Of course, we could not understand the signs or the language above the marquee. But Papa and I, we grasped their enticement, the visual invitation, the temptation they presented. It was late in the afternoon. A windowed booth stood stationed beneath the marquee, yet it was unmanned. Beside it, a door was propped open with a bit of brick. “Can I?” I whispered.
Guiding me by the shoulders, Papa pushed me inside.
We found ourselves in a grand red velvet foyer. From behind a tall curtain came music. There was an implicit hush. I took a tentative step through the slice of velvet. We were at the back of a hall as dark as a tunnel, filled with lazy white curlicues of smoke. On the wall opposite, two people were dancing in jiggly, lint-flecked black and white; they were alive but not alive—the culmination of a long, bright beam of dust. I was just old enough to know that what I was seeing was a picture but not a picture. It was wholly animated with light and velocity. I squeezed Papa’s hand. A vast new world within a world flickered before us. I stood in astonishment as two strangers in the most dazzling, unusual clothes waltzed through drawing rooms full of armchairs with antimacassars, curvaceous electric lamps, a voluptuous grand piano. A sylphlike lady with dark lips and a glittering gown swooned on a couch. Instantly, I wanted to be her.
A strange, heavy palm landed on my shoulder just then, and a man began whispering to Papa in a hiss of anger. Whatever he was saying needed no translation. “Pfft!” My father laughed dismissively. But he grabbed my hand and pulled me quickly back out onto the street. “Dirty scheygitz,” he swore, tossing the end of his cigarette into the gutter. Until that moment, I hadn’t known that my father smoked. “Ah, but so what?” As he ground out the butt with his foot, he winked at me with a delicious look of conspiracy. “We got to see plenty, didn’t we, kindeleh?”
Back at the immigration hostel, Papa described what we’d seen to the other men. Since I was too little to be left on my own, he’d smuggled me into the men’s dormitory. He placed me on his mat in the corner, where everyone promptly forgot about me. It was a bit like being in synagogue. Most of the men in the room kept their hats and yarmulkes on and bowed over prayer books. Some sat propped against the wall with their eyes shut. But Papa had a coterie of friends who seemed to have carved out a special club for themselves in the back. Their hats and jackets lay flung about. Pale tobacco smoke filled the air. Men were dealing cards and passing around a flask. Papa sat on a stool with his legs splayed out, his collar unbuttoned, his shirtsleeves rolled up. He was far livelier than he ever was at home—commanding, jovial—sitting in the center of the men like a little czar, slapping some of them on the back, doling out cigarettes, kibitzing with all of them.
“What you saw today, that was a ‘moving picture,’” a heavyset man said. He had pockmarked cheeks, and every time he slapped one of his cards down on a stool, the flesh of his jowls shook. The air around him smelled of wet wool, smoke, rotting onions. “These moving pictures, they come from America.”
- "With a picaresque tone and first person narration reminiscent of Charles Dickens, Gilman's novel is a delightful chronicle of New York history as seen through the eyes of the kind of person who built it and turned it into what it eventually became....Lillian's rise and fall, her battles with kleptomania, alcoholism and arrogance, is almost parallel to other great stories which literature has usually reserved for men. The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is sweet where it could've been corny, epic where it could've been overlong and enchanting where it could've been contrived."—Popmatters.com
- "Big-hearted . . . . [A] smart, darkly comic story, which is perfect for a summer weekend read. . . .Gilman understands the great sweep of the 20th century, from life in a tenement on Orchard Street, to Italian Communists, Joe McCarthy, McDonald's franchises, suburbanization and, of course, the history of ice cream in America. She blends it in a delicious swirl, and adds a topical spin."—Chicago Tribune ("Editor's Choice")
- "Entertaining . . . . A rich confection . . . . Although this is Gilman's fiction debut, she knows how to tell a sweeping story...Lillian Dunkle is sometimes sympathetic, sometimes reprehensible, but always fascinating. And that, darlings, is all that matters in telling a good story."—Dallas Morning News
- "A tasty summertime treat. . . . A rich literary feast of 31 flavors (and twice that many colors, scents and sounds), Ice Cream Queen is a familiar schmatta-to-silk brocade story of immigrant New York.... Ice Cream Queen is polished yet pointed, deceptively cheery but shaded in the sinister - an upside-down, funhouse treat. In short, the kiddie-cup conclusion? You'll lick it up."—USA Today
- "Magnificent . . . Distinctive, delicious prose...[A] fascinating ride through history...Gilman is a marvel at researching, and The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street luxuriates in long chapters that gift its readers with pure delight. The fun of history, when writing about it in the context of fiction, is the creativity afforded the author and, clearly, Gilman has plenty of it. So don't wait! Dig in and ask for a big, heaping scoop of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. And make sure you have real ice cream handy. You're going to want it. Gilman makes sure of that."—Bookbrowse.com
- "This page-turner of a book is a tart alternative to the usual sweet summer refreshment. . . . The author's research is meticulous. Gilman's Dickensian description of the Lower East Side of the early-20th century conjures up the intensity of such classics as "The Rise of David Levinsky" or "Call it Sleep." . . . The historical references are seamlessly woven into the story and add an extra topping to an already delightful tale....Gilman's talent is taking sentimental stock characters and turning them inside out."—The Jewish Week
- "An epic novel about a tough, determined immigrant girl who suffers more than her fair share of licks-but who grows to become the greatest ice cream maker in America."—The Missourian
- "A compelling, haunting story of an immigrant. . . . So well written, so rich in detail and such an honest story. . . . Like an ice cream sundae in that it begs to be enjoyed slowly and appreciated for each new taste and texture."—Deseret News
- "A very enjoyable and insightful book. . . . The plot is a page-turner. . . . Anyone that wants a captivating story with a lot of humor, sensitivity, and Jewish wit should read The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street."—WorkingMother.com
- "The writing is forceful, the travel is fun, and the characters are memorable, making this novel by award-winning writer Susan Jane Gilman pretty much the perfect summer read."—The Christian Science Monitor (a "Best Book of June" selection)
- "We all scream [for] Susan Jane Gilman's novel, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street."—TIME
- "Like a glittering mound of ice cream on a sizzling mid-June afternoon, Susan Jane Gilman's fiction debut will be a sweet delight to any summer reading list. In The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, Gilman wields a playful pen to craft a charming American odyssey staring feisty, irreverent protagonist Malka Treynovsky....A lush cultural history."—Bustle (June 2014 Best Books list)
- "Suspenseful and bittersweet. . . Gilman, who has a gift for realistic dialogue, has composed an incredibly engrossing read."—Real Simple
- "An outstanding fiction debut. . . . Gilman's numerous strengths are showcased, such as character-driven narrative, a ready sense of wit, and a rich historical canvas."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "An ambitious and lavish immigrant rags-to-riches-to-rags first novel rife with humor and moxie."—Booklist
- "Take an unforgettable female protagonist, the classic immigrant story of the 20th century and a whole lot of ice cream, and you have the perfect summer novel."—Claire Benedict, Montpelier Bridge (VT)
- "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."—Library Journal
- "The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, raised by Italians on New York's Lower East Side, Lillian Dunkle is the archetypical 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."—Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You
- "THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET is a wonderful read, by turns poignant and wickedly funny. This is the immigrant story updated, with a brazenly re-imagined American anti-hero, and delicious all along the way."—Kevin Baker, author of The Big Crowd and Paradise Alley
- "Gilman mixes two of the world's best creations, ice cream and New York City, with brains, irreverence, panoramic historical research, and a huge heart. Set aside a chunk of time when you scoop this wonderful novel up, because you won't be able to put it back down."—Anne Korkeakivi, author of An Unexpected Guest
- "Picture a scrappy young immigrant who amasses fame and fortune through bone-grinding labor, canny speculation, and the gift of gab, only to wind up a paranoid alcoholic mired in the trappings of luxury, in trouble with the Feds for tax fraud. You pictured a man, right? Gotcha! This is the genius of THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET: in a novel that condenses the innocence, the calculation, the hope, and the delusions of twentieth-century America into one figure, Susan Jane Gilman taps a heroine to do the heavy lifting. The scope is broad, the writing is sumptuous, and Lillian Dunkle née Malka Treynovsky leaves Kane and Gatsby in the dust: she's a full-steam-ahead geyser tapped into the American life force itself."—Ellis Avery, author of The Teahouse Fire
- "This shrewd and lively novel tells us about those chasms between public success and private truths that make up so much of American life. The energetic narrator, the ice cream queen, is a confidence-woman, and her darkly comic story about life in the big city and in the media spotlight will give readers chills."—Charles Baxter, author of The Soul Thief
- On Sale
- Jun 10, 2014
- Page Count
- 512 pages
- Grand Central Publishing