The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman middle school? Malka (later Lillian) narrates her story, vividly bringing to life the brutal conditions endured by immigrants in the early Twentieth Century, who arrive in America with nothing but their need to survive. The family, composed of Malka, her sisters and her parents, finds its way to the derelict tenements of the lower east side of Manhattan, where it is torn apart, first by her father’s defection and then by the illness and madness that extreme hardship breeds. Though misfortune and abandonment plague Malka’s life, her extraordinary cleverness saves her from every peril. She can construct an exculpating whopper in two seconds flat. One such lie changes her on the spot from a little Jewish girl to a little Catholic one. The story of Malka’s childhood was so compelling that I wasn’t sure what the rest of the book could be about. Turns out that “Lillian’s” adulthood is even more stupendous. She has some luck, but mostly, through her own ingenuity, she rebounds from setbacks and betrayals, often through appalling (though sometimes endearing) lapses in ethics. Her voice is filled with wonderful yiddishisms. She’s funny. The author’s in-depth understanding of the world of ice cream (yes, the book IS about ice cream) contributes to its engaging authenticity. I am very grateful to Liz Baer for telling me about this writer.
Nov 23, 2019
Murder at the Columbarium by Emily Gallo ’67. This is the third novel of Emily’s I have read with Jonestown survivor Jed as the protagonist. Having found a way to go forward as caretaker for this facility for cremains, Jed has also maintained a network of friends and a committed partner, Monica. A character of great empathy, Jed found in the past that rocking crack babies calmed both the babies and himself as he struggled to keep his past from overwhelming him. Now he finds himself in the midst of a murder mystery. After coming upon the body of a young woman wearing a hijab on the grounds of the Columbarium, he is startled to also find with her a healthy baby. Clues lead to a pot farm, international drug traffic, and some harsh Pakistani customs. The plot is well-paced and keeps the reader guessing as the facts unfold. Malcolm, whom I first met in Venice Beach, comes back to play an important role, and Jed’s baby rocking skills come in handy. Though a brutal murder is at the center of the story, the book provides a heartfelt, humanizing look at those often marginalized by society: the trans, the HIV positive, the poor, and even the skinhead.