The Ice Cream Queen of OrchardStreet by Susan Jane Gilman
Malka Bialystoker is a young Russian-Jewish immigrant girl out looking for her wandering father in the early 1910s in New York when disaster strikes. She is run over by a cart selling ices and her life takes a dramatic turn. Severely injured she is hospitalized and abandoned by her family. The man who hit her feels guilty and takes the young girl in making her part of the family and changing her name to Lillian Maria Dinello. As part of this new Catholic Italian family she learns the family business, first making flavored ices, then ice cream. Lillian later marries and helps create an ice cream empire, one that is now crashing down around her in the 1980s amid scandal.
This is the story of an enterprising woman trying to assert her authority and business acumen in a time when women were shoved to the background. She is smart, savvy and an amazing risk taker and following her story, and the story of her ice cream empire, is a joy. I knew right off that things aren’t going well in 1980s (the present in this tale), a trial is looming, but that is only part of the reason I kept reading, wanting to know the source of the scandal. I just wanted to see Lillian, this scrappy, conniving and amazing young woman grow up.
After reading what the book was about I didn’t think this would be my flavor. Then I remembered enjoying Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, a memoir by the author. Lillian is a real character. You love not liking her all the time, you respect her ruthlessness and she has such a refreshingly no nonsense non-apologetic voice it’s great fun to read. I devoured this book, like my favorite cone of coffee ice cream with multi-colored sprinkles. I did eat quite a bit of Umlaut ice cream (read the book and you’ll understand) while reading this novel so make sure you have a pint or two handy!