The Ice-Cream Makers by Ernest van der Kwast
I’m going to dispel two thoughts you might have about this book based solely on its title and cover. This is not going to be sold to you as a summer reading book by me because in my experience the term “summer reading” equates as mindless read. This story isn’t mindless. And this is not going to be exploited by me as a summer reading book because the words ‘ice cream’ are in the title.
There, now lets’ talk about this story. Giovanni Calamine comes from a family whose tradition is ice cream. In the 1880’s this meant climbing a mountain to find the snow and carrying it back down the mountain. It meant introducing this concept of flavored ices and creams to people in your town who were skeptical until that first taste. It meant devoting your entire life, and the life of your family to the production on a small scale of this delicious treat. It meant travelling by foot every year through the mountains of Italy to Rotterdam, in the beginning, with the ice cream maker on your back, to continually make and sell ice cream and then travelling back home to Italy for the winter to rest. It meant never knowing summer because summer meant making (churn churn churn) ice cream for generations.
But for Giovanni Calamine, life wasn’t about ice cream, it was about poetry. He wanted to be a poet. He studied for it, wrote it and lived it. His decision affected the life of his family and his brother so it’s no wonder this decision was not met with joy from his family.
And then, Giovanni must return home from his world wandering. He must confront face to face his decisions and what it meant for his family and he has yet another one to make. Maybe two. But what he learns the most is that no matter what, a family is a family and a decision made by one affects all and when does a person feel the freedom to make their own choices for their own lives and what goes round, comes round. I told you this wasn’t a simple story.
Yes, this is a very good story on many levels. We also learn about the early days of ice cream production, but there isn’t an overload on that. It’s just enough to tell the story. We follow the lives of a family for more than a century and I always like watching how families evolve into what they are now, decisions being what they are. And yes, there are some really interesting ice cream flavors as part of the conversation. As a hobby ice cream maker myself, this was personally fun. And most of all, this story is a thinker.