The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

  • Review
By – April 30, 2014

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street encom­pass­es many sto­ries, inter­twin­ing the rise of a woman ice cream mogul with an immigrant’s sto­ry, the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can Jew­ish desire to assim­i­late, women’s rights issues, pover­ty, world wars, McCarthy­ism, the youth move­ment of the Six­ties, Reagan’s trick­le-down eco­nom­ics, and the over­reach of government. 

Young Malka’s fam­i­ly immi­grates to New York City to escape the pogroms. Crip­pled by an ice cream cart, Mai­ka is aban­doned by her own par­ents but is tak­en in by the fam­i­ly who caused the acci­dent. Through wit and cun­ning she learns the secrets of the trade from her res­cuers, an Ital­ian fam­i­ly, and after falling in love and even­tu­al­ly mar­ry­ing Albert, a hand­some, dyslex­ic Jew­ish man, she trans­forms her­self from a crip­pled depen­dent girl into Lil­lian Dun­kle, the ice cream queen tycoon. 

Read­ers are able to get a glimpse of the his­tor­i­cal issues, many times with humor and wit. The scenes Mal­ka shares with the Ital­ian fam­i­ly skill­ful­ly show the sim­i­lar­i­ties and immi­grants. Oth­er scenes depict gov­ern­ment bureau­cra­cy at its worst. Oh the rig­morale she had to go through. Tax returns and even a psy­cho­log­i­cal eval­u­a­tion. What will they ask for next? A blood sam­ple? Today, if one of our fran­chis­es wants to hire a six­teen-year-old to scoop ice cream for a sum­mer, the manage­ment is required to pro­vide more infor­ma­tion than my entire fam­i­ly was asked to sup­ply at Ellis Island.” 

Lil­lian is a com­plex char­ac­ter. She can be dri­ven, bit­ter, and rude while also being bold, loy­al, and high­ly intel­li­gent. This dual personal­ity allows the read­er to see that some­one, espe­cial­ly a busi­ness­woman, who has to devel­op a thick skin, can also be seen as a moth­er­ly fig­ure. Lil­lian is both com­pelling and sympathetic. 

Incred­i­bly, Gilman is able to weave togeth­er Amer­i­can his­to­ry, the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence, and ice cream. The read­er will learn all about the ice cream busi­ness and how it was affect­ed by impor­tant issues of the day, includ­ing the threat of new fran­chis­es like McDonald’s that also sold ice cream. 

Any­one who wants a cap­ti­vat­ing sto­ry with a lot of humor, sen­si­tiv­i­ty, and Jew­ish wit should read The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. Read­ers will be tak­en on a jour­ney through the decades with Lil­lian Dun­kle, the cel­e­brat­ed matri­arch of the ice cream busi­ness, as she recounts her life from pen­ni­less immi­grant to an Amer­i­can food tycoon.

Relat­ed content:

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.

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