The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

Written by Susan Jane Gilman
Review by Arleigh Johnson

Lillian Dunkle, celebrated matriarch of the ice cream business, recounts her life from penniless immigrant to food tycoon. Because it is written as a retrospective narrative, and infused with the wit of Jewish, Italian-raised Malka “Lillian” Treynovsky Bialystoker Dinello Dunkle, it delivers insightful and reflective honesty while acquainting the reader with the protagonist’s formative years in early 20th-century New York. Through the two World Wars and decades beyond, the creators of Dunkle’s Ice Cream Company juggle destructive relationships, financial hardship and difficult decisions with experimental recipes, marketing ingenuity, francizing and fame. They are the top of a competitive industry – until it all comes spiraling down.

One of the most poignant themes of the book is the glaring poverty within the immigrant quarters of the city, and the sheer number of people suffering illness, permanent deformities and death from diseases that are today warded off by vaccination. The Great Depression, war, competition and new inventions impact sales, though Lillian usually finds a way to turn it to her advantage. A natural entrepreneur, she is the leader of the company even if she has to relinquish the title to her husband while enduring snide remarks from other men of the business world.

Phenomenally researched and filled with period detail, this story empathetically appeals to readers as it relates, with much humor, a raw depiction of a tremendously difficult childhood – yet endears with the remarkable strength of a well-lived, though sometimes penitent, character whose signature line is, “So sue me!” This novel is truly as much of a summer treat as its subject matter, and is highly recommended to readers of the literary and historical genres!