Book Recommendation: ‘The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street’ by Susan Jane Gilman

recommended by REBECCA BUCHMANN, technical services, acquisitions/cataloger, Door County Library

“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” July is National Ice Cream Month, so what better way to celebrate it than with a book featuring the Ice Cream Queen of America?

Susan Jane Gilman’s novel The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street tells the rags-to-riches-to-public-disgrace immigrant story of Lillian Dunkle, who was born Malka Treynovsky. This tenacious, yet acerbic character tells her story in the first person. Flipping between the past and present day, she chronicles her family’s traumatic escape from pogroms in Russia, the struggles she and her family face in order to survive the tenements of New York, the events that shaped her upbringing and marriage, and her rise to success as an ice cream magnate. 

Often overlooked and underestimated, her story is one of women striving for success in a man’s world. Intermingled is the evolution of ice cream, from an Italian-ice-like product sold by horse-drawn carts to the soft-serve and super-premium ice cream we know today.

Spanning 70-some years of history, this book touches almost every decade of American 20th-century history, giving the reader a glimpse into the life of Everyman during the defining events of each decade, as well as delivering a cautionary tale about how fame and fortune can cloud one’s perspective and lead to less-than-favorable outcomes.

If you enjoy 20th-century historical fiction and/or want to know more about one of the world’s favorite summer treats, this might be a book for you.