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An Ice-Cream War by William Boyd

An Ice-Cream War (original 1982; edition 1999)

by William Boyd

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Title:An Ice-Cream War
Authors:William Boyd
Info:Vintage International (1999), Paperback, 408 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction - Literary

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An Ice-Cream War by William Boyd (1982)

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This historical novel set in Tanzania, Kenya and the UK during WW I, is darkly humorous and beautifully detailed. The focus is on a group of people whose own lives and plans are spun into disarray by the war and its consequences. Von Bishop enjoys farming in German East Africa, but his wife, Liesl, longs to return to Germany. Across the border, the American, Walter, cares about little in life by his farm, his sisal decorticator, and his future agricultural plans. In England, the Cobb family drifts in the moral and intellectual haze of the 1920s, absorbed in family squabbles. International forces, however, drag each family out of their normal path and into a confusion of life, death and love. The writing is beautifully descriptive, portraying the individuals as unregarded pawns who are incapable of making sense of larger historical forces sweeping over them. Boyd's book is largely character driven. There are, honestly speaking, no African characters in the book at all. While one can certainly argue that using a large and obviously relevant group of people merely as a backdrop may seem strange, I appreciate that Boyd focuses on the characters whose story he is telling. This, in my opinion, is preferable to tacking on a modern view of the world through some "sensitive" character who will "understand" the "natives" as is so often done in contemporary historical novels. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
Set in WW1 in East Africa and England, Boyd weaves an engrossing tale involving the Germans and British in East Africa and centring on the lives of 2 brothers in the British army and the tangled webs of their lives. ( )
  sianpr | Mar 12, 2016 |
Africa during WW1, a farmer, some other minor characters - it all could have made for a very boring book. In Boyd's hands, however, the characters shine and we get a fascinating glimpse into another time. The marriage in the book is one that profoundly depresses me because it rings true for so many of the marriages I am acquainted with... ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
An Ice Cream War is the story of American, German, and British lives in the little-known East African theater of World War I. As indicated by the book title, the British expected the campaign to be a joke. The action takes place mostly in the European colonies of East Africa and England between 1914 and 1919. Some of the characters expect war, and some doubt it will occur, but none of the characters have any idea how devastating the war will be to everyone, even those far from the battlefield.

The book draws four separate narrative strands together in an engaging novel of war, love and revenge. Walter Smith owns a farm in British East Africa. Just across the border, in German East Africa, are his neighbors, Erich von Bishop and his wife Liesl. Back in England Felix Cobb returns home from boarding school for the wedding of his older brother, Gabriel. Gabriel is a professional soldier, a captain in the British Army, but Felix is more of an intellectual currently dabbling with pacifism. For all their flaws, the important characters share a sense of humanity and fatalism in the face of hardship. Through the course of the novel some issues are resolved, but few if any are resolved in ways that the characters want or expect. Despite the beliefs they held concerning armed conflict between nations before the outbreak of war, their beliefs change, and they come to realize that no one anywhere is immune to the effects of war. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Jan 17, 2016 |
For most of us, any mention of World War I conjures up images of trench warfare on the Western front in France and Belgium. However, there were other fronts, including East Africa. Boyd's novel examines the war's effects in East Africa through the experiences of an American resident in British East Africa, a German couple in German East Africa, and an English family whose oldest son was an officer in an Indian Regiment that was sent to East Africa. What appear to be separate stories eventually intersect.

The novel held my interest but failed to engage my emotions. I felt like an observer rather than a participant. I think the characters had a lot to do with that. The characters are all so self-absorbed that the war is merely a means to their own ends for each of them. The few female characters all seem underdeveloped.

One of the minor characters steals the scene each time he appears. Wheech-Browning is a government official in British East Africa before the war, and he holds various military posts during the war. He's so focused on following regulations to the letter that he's oblivious to the chaos and destruction that he leaves in his wake. Wheech-Browning is described as a tall and lanky man, and my mental image of him looks a lot like John Cleese. ( )
  cbl_tn | Nov 29, 2015 |
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'What do you think would happen,' Colonel Theodore Roosevelt asked his son Kermit, 'if I shot an elephant in the balls?'
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375705023, Paperback)

"Rich in character and incident, An Ice-Cream War fulfills the ambition of the historical novel at its best."
--The New York Times Book Review

Booker Prize Finalist

"Boyd has more than fulfilled the bright promise of [his] first novel. . . . He is capable not only of some very funny satire but also of seriousness and compassion."  --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

1914. In a hotel room in German East Africa, American farmer Walter Smith dreams of Theodore Roosevelt. As he sleeps, a railway passenger swats at flies, regretting her decision to return to the Dark Continent--and to her husband. On a faraway English riverbank, a jealous Felix Cobb watches his brother swim, and curses his sister-in-law-to-be. And in the background of the
world's daily chatter: rumors of an Anglo-German conflict, the likes of which no one has ever seen.

In An Ice-Cream War, William Boyd brilliantly evokes the private dramas of a generation upswept by the winds of war. After his German neighbor burns his crops--with an apology and a smile--Walter Smith takes up arms on behalf of Great Britain. And when Felix's brother marches off to defend British East Africa, he pursues, against his better judgment, a forbidden love affair. As the sons of the world match wits and weapons on a continent thousands of miles from home, desperation makes bedfellows of enemies and traitors of friends and family. By turns comic and quietly wise, An Ice-Cream War deftly renders lives capsized by violence, chance, and the irrepressible human capacity for love.

"Funny, assured, and cleanly, expansively told, a seriocomic romp. Boyd gives us studies of people caught in the side pockets of calamity and dramatizes their plights with humor, detail and grit."  --Harper's

"Boyd has crafted a quiet, seamless prose in which story and characters flow effortlessly out of a fertile imagination. . . . The reader emerges deeply moved." --Newsday

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:36 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Primarily a gripping story of the men and women swept up by the passions of love and battle, William Boyd's magnificently entertaining novel also elicits the cruel futility and tragedy of it all.

(summary from another edition)

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