The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

Book cover: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane GilmanIn 1913, the Jewish-Russian Treynovsky family leaves their country to start a new life abroad. Malka Treynovsky’s mother has family in South Africa, so she knows they’ll have a little help resettling. Malka’s father, however, has other things in mind and tricks the family into moving to America instead. All the rumors of great wealth and opportunity prove false, and the family moves into a tenement on the Lower East Side; their situation is just as dire as it was back in Russia. Everyone in the family, even the youngest children, must bring home money daily if they want to eat.

Little by little, the family falls apart. Malka is run over by a horse and crippled for life; already stretched too thin to take on another burden, her family abandons her. The man who accidentally ran her over, Mr. Dinello, takes her into his Italian Catholic home. It is there that Malka learns the skills that will change her life. Mr. Dinello sells Italian ices on Orchard Street, and Malka grows up learning all about the ice cream business. As she gets older, gets married, and builds her empire, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, The Ice Cream Queen. She and her husband have lucrative patents and franchises, and through sheer determination, little homely, crippled Malka Treynovsky still manages to grow up and endear herself to the American public as a motherly Jewish-Italian icon; she even has her own television show.

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Sunday Salon (On Monday): In which I return semi-scathed but content

I’ve been back home for almost a week now, and getting acclimated to my old sleep schedule is proving difficult. No matter what I do, I keep waking up at 5 in the morning!

I was in Europe for five weeks. My initial schedule was: Reykjavik, Oslo, Copenhagen, Malmo (Sweden), Helsinki, Krakow, Olomouc (Czech Republic), Trencin (Slovakia), Cachtice (Slovakia), Bratislava, Vienna, Prague, London, Paris, Naples. I was so excited to get to go to castles and castle ruins in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

And then I sprained both my ankles in Oslo. As in Oslo, the second city on my trip. How I managed to do that, I still haven’t a clue, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise considering I have been known to cut myself with water and break my arm while making tea. So.

My left ankle was in intense pain by the end of Day 5 (my first full day in Oslo), but I didn’t want to go to a doctor because I didn’t have my insurance card on me (Oslo is insanely expensive). I figured I’d get better in a few days. On Day 6, my right ankle decided to also screw me over. At this point, I could still walk very, very slowly, so that’s what I did. And I did it in Copenhagen and Helsinki as well, taking bus tours to make up for the fact that I could barely walk, and coming to terms that Malmo was just not going to be feasible anymore. It was frustrating because there was a lot I wanted to see but couldn’t.

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Quickies: Margherita Dolce Vita & On Such a Full Sea

First off: I’m baaaack! I returned from my 5-week, 10-country European adventure late Tuesday night! (I’ll talk more about it tomorrow…drama, drama, drama!) Before I left, I read books from almost all the countries I visited. I posted a few reviews while I was over there, and then stopped. It ended up being a case of either having great WiFi connection but being too exhausted to write, or having lots of time and energy to write but having zero WiFi! Now that I’m back, I’ll be writing those reviews and spreading them out over the coming weeks.

Book cover: Margherita Dolce Vita by Stefano BenniMargherita Dolce Vita by Stefano Benni

Publisher/Year: Europa Editions, 2006
Format: Paperback
Pages: 208
Source: Purchase

What it is: Margherita is a teenager living a peaceful and relatively happy life with her eccentric family in Italy. The family lives within their means in a modest suburban home and tries to recycle whatever they can. This all changes when a wealthy family moves in next door, building an eyesore of a modern home that Margherita’s family dubs “The Cube.” Life as Margherita knows it is suddenly over.

Why I read it: It looked like a happy, lighthearted book. The author is also popular in Italy.

What I thought: I knew this book was a satire, but I wasn’t expecting it to turn out even remotely the way it did. The first few chapters fell in line with my initial preconception of the book: lighthearted, funny, charming. Then the book started taking a very strange turn. By the end, I was just like, “what in the world am I reading?” Margherita’s neighbors can be taken as stand-ins for stereotypical Americans: abrasive, self-absorbed, obsessed with having the newest and best of everything without giving a damn about what anyone else needs or wants. It gets darker than that: Margherita’s neighbors end up revealing anti-immigrant, anti-poor people, pro-guns, pro-using tech to spy on people sentiments. And okay…if you’re trying to go over-the-top with dark satire and need to paint a negative America/American “type,” there’s definitely some basis for all those stereotypes. Fine. But the book went completely off the rails for me with its conspiracy theories and inexplicably bad plot twists. I kind of hated it (but I still love the cover).

Book cover: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae LeeOn Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

Publisher/Year: Riverhead Books, 2014
Format: ARC
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher

What it is: In Chang-rae Lee’s dystopian America, the world has split into a bunch of colonies where only the wealthiest have it easy in areas known as charters. Outside the walls of the urban work colonies is a violent, ungoverned no-man’s land where people travel and live at their own risk. Fan is a Chinese fish-tank diver working in B-Mor, what was once Baltimore. When her lover mysteriously disappears, she leaves B-Mor and heads into the treacherous Open Counties to look for him.

Why I read it: It was one of the most talked about and highly anticipated releases this year.

What I thought: So here’s the thing: this was my first Chang-rae Lee book (nope, still haven’t read Native Speaker). I can see why the book got lots of great buzz and why people love Lee’s work. His writing is undeniably beautiful and haunting. There were parts of this book that I completely lost myself in, but there were also lots of times where I thought the book dragged on. It’s an atmospheric book; there are surreal, quietly unnerving plot twists told through the eyes of the narrators (a faceless, nameless group from B-Mor reimagining Fan’s story). Sometimes it worked for me, sometimes it didn’t.

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen

Book cover: This Way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz BorowskiTadeusz Borowski was a Polish author who was sent to Auschwitz and Dachau from 1943-1945. When he was twenty-one, his fiancee was arrested by Nazis at a friend’s apartment, and when Borowski went to look for her, he was ultimately sent to the concentration camps as well (both were part of underground activities in Warsaw). After his release, he searched for his fiancee and found her living in Sweden. Meanwhile, he was working as a writer and journalist. He eventually did marry his fiancee, but in 1952 at the age of 28, just three days after his wife gave birth, he committed suicide (there had been two previous attempts).

According to the book’s introduction by Jan Kott, writers/survivors at the time were expected to write either martyrologies or Communist works that were ideological and clearly showed right and wrong. Borowski was determined to document all that he had witnessed at Auschwitz and Dachau so that history would not be forgotten. However, his writings shocked a lot of people with their subject matter because of the perspectives they revealed. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is a collection of concentration camp stories released a couple of years following Borowski’s release.

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Gunnar’s Daughter

Greetings from Olso! I’ve been here less than 24 hours, but it’s been love at first sight for me!

Trigger warning

While looking for Norwegian authors for this vacation-related reading project of mine, I came across Sigrid Undset and discovered that 1) she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928, and 2) a lot of her books are set in the Middle Ages and feature strong female characters. That, of course, sold me! I settled on Gunnar’s Daughter, her first historical novel, mostly because of its settings and the fact tat it was short enough to read before my trip. I’m glad I did, because it ended up being one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

The book is set mostly in 11th century Iceland and Norway. Ljot and his uncle Veterlide are Vikings who sail over to Norway. They become guests of one of the most powerful landowners there, and twenty-year- old Ljot immediately falls in love with the landowner’s spoiled teenage daughter, Vigdis Gunnarsdottir. Because of her beauty and position of privilege, she has had many suitors, but she keeps rejecting everyone. Her father allows this, as he leaves the choice of suitor up to her.
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