Monday, June 23, 2014

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
"With 17 percent butterfat, you could make an ice cream out of dog sh*t and everyone would think it was heaven."

I LOVED this book. It made me laugh, surprised me, made me sad at times, taught me things, and just overall completely entranced me. Such an honest narrator! If you didn't know her entire story, you would think some of the things she does or says is bad, but knowing the entire story, I found myself rooting for her all the way. This also made me think of how quick we are to judge in real quickly we say, "That person is so wrong! That person is doing bad..." before we know the full story. Food for thought, eh?

This woman, this ice cream queen, former Jewish immigrant who grew up crippled, with an Italian family and became Catholic and married a handsome man and struggled to obtain the American dream...she just tells her story, and she tells it like it is. There's no painting herself into a saint, no pretending to be someone she's not. From a ship on the way to America, to ice cream parlors, to heartbreak, to war, to motherhood, we're with her all the way, and every minute is interesting.

People were not always kind to her. Yet I think some of my favorite bits were when she was growing up on the streets on New York. Her own family was cruel. It was different times. But yet, it makes her who she is, who came to be, a tough woman, business savvy. I can see some people being put off by this heroine, her actions, her brutal honesty, but I felt nothing but sympathy for her at first, and later, pride. Perhaps because I've grown up with my own disability, I saw where she was coming from more than others will.

Giambattista Della Porta
From Wiki Commons
And along the way, I learned a ton of things, like who invented ice cream: Giambattista Della Porta, an Italian scholar who made frozen wine of sorts.

All the WWII books I've read, you wouldn't think I'd learn something new, especially from an ice cream queen, right?


I had no idea an island called Ulithi existed until reading this.

Within a single month in the autumn of 1944, the United States converts this blip (the island) into the largest secret naval base in the world.

And you know what? They had an ice cream barge! And I double checked this. It's true. This author knows her ice cream history. Off the coast of this island--oh let the book say it:

This ice cream barge in Ulithi was commissioned to be the world's biggest "floating ice cream parlor." Made of concrete, it did not even have an engine. It was a refrigerated leviathan that had to be towed across the Pacific.

As I said above, this turned out to be true and according to some data I found about the island mentioned, the ice cream barge made 500 gallons a shift.

The story takes us from the early 1900s, before freezers, to a time of Polio Pioneers. Did you know it was said that sugar and things like ice cream contributed to the disease?

Long review short, this narrator shares not only her ups and downs, her goods and bads, her fears, accomplishments, and shortcomings, but also American history. And to me there was also a moral, that success and money doesn't always mean happiness, nor does it erase past hurts, or make you feel more loved.

It's a long read. I think bits toward the end could have been cut back. The drunken Lilian grew a bit tedious, but it was probably meant to be that way.

But it's a story of success, downfall, of people pursuing the American dream despite the most negative of odds. And in my opinion, it's a winner of a book.

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself. At THIS time, the first three chapters are free on Kindle.

I received this via Netgalley.

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