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Book review: 'The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street' is a compelling, haunting story of an immigrant

Published: Saturday, June 14 2014 3:15 p.m. MDT

"THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET," by Susan Jane Gilman, Grant Central Publishing, $26, 506 pages (f)

"The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street" is so well written, so rich in detail and such an honest story that it's hard to believe Lillian/Malka Dunkle is a fictional person.

Malka, a girl who "let" her papa take the family's tickets from Russia to South Africa from her coat pocket and exchange them for passage to America, is a strong, passionate, vulnerable child who eventually rises to the top of a successful business enterprise.

Along the way, she endures loss and betrayals that hurt tremendously, including from her parents, yet she finds a way to survive.

Malka keeps trying to be good enough or quiet enough. She cannot understand why no one seems to simply love her. She tries to save her little sister, Flora, and cannot.

What she finds is a surprising amount of strength, though much of it is imposed upon her by circumstance and the fact that there are no other choices.

The Dinellos, who take Malka in after a street accident leaves her crippled, are kind but busy. They care for her but don't fill up the ache in her heart left by her deadbeat dad and callous, troubled mother.

She's impressed into helping make ice cream and fancy lace, and she learns the ice cream trade that becomes her legacy.

She marries and deals with the press, multiple lawsuits and the struggles that come with money and power.

The story is compelling and written as if Malka Trynovsky Bialystoker Lillian Maria Dinello Dunkle is sitting down talking with the reader; she adds comments like "So sue me!" after revealing that her story of coming into the harbor as an immigrant and tearing up at the sight of the Statue of Liberty was mostly a lie.

There is some minor swearing and plenty of haunting images throughout the book. There is no described sex or violence, though there's plenty of backhanding and slapping of children.

It's a pretty strong representation of the stories of immigration and the trials and hardships immigrants endured.

The smells, the stress, the starvation and the despair come through clearly, but it's still a very readable book.

It's interesting, as well, to find out about the world of making ices and sweet ice cream, selling it on the street and learning to make it with corn syrup when the war pushes sugar prices to sky-high levels.

This is a long story divided into the parts and chapters of Malka's life and experience but with memories and updates interspersed that help move the action along.

It's very much like an ice cream sundae in that it begs to be enjoyed slowly and appreciated for each new taste and texture.

If you go ...

What: Susan Jane Gilman book signing

When: Monday, June 16, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com, susanjanegilman.com

Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com

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