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.
Spanning from the early 1900’s into the 1980’s, Gilman holds no punches regarding the description of the times and hardships faced by immigrants. Brilliantly painted, we understand the misery suffered by those trying to eke by, understanding their drive to succeed and thrive. Hardships faced by many, feast or famine, rise or fall, challenges faced by all.
Gilman perfects characterization, humor and a wonderful historical backdrop. Her writing possess a rhythmically prompt feel with plenty of wit pulling the reader into the depths of the entire novel. Lillian’s character is multidimensional, leaving the reader torn between love and hate along with empathy and disdain. Lillian reminds me of Leona Helmsley, Tom Carvel and good egg Bob McAllister. Selecting ice cream as a focal point Gilman excels in the presentation of the history of this luscious delight most enjoy.
A female protagonist with a survivor mentality, not short on moxie, full of tenacity and intelligence, Lillian steals the show. A character driven story with a truly memorable character, undoubtedly Lillian with have her share of allies and adversaries, either way she will have your undivided attention leaving you with plenty of laughs along the way.
A wonderful debut effort, completely entertaining with a spunky firecracker albeit controversial female antihero protagonist. Well done on all points. Highly recommend, Gilman has made her presence duly noticed. Outstanding.