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Customer Review

on December 8, 2000
While billed as a novel about the First World War, "An Ice Cream War" is really about the oftentimes tragic randomness of life and how we as humans really have very little control over our individual destinies.
This book could be subtitled "When Terrible Things Happen to Essentially Good People". It tells the story of two brothers, Felix and Gabriel Cobb; Charis, Gabriel's wife; Walter Smith, an American plantation owner in British East Africa; Colonel Von Bishop, Walter's neighbor, nemesis, and colonel in the German army; and Liesl Von Bishop, the colonel's bored and lonely wife. The War brings these people together from the far corners of the Earth and forces them into an interaction with tragic consequences.
The characters are never short of involving. The plot clips along at a breathless pace and there are at least two or three set pieces that are staggering examples of narrative brilliance. One of the author's greatest triumphs here is his ability to capture the environment and pervading atmosphere of sub-Saharan Africa during the War. When he speaks of swarms of black flies hovering over and resting on a corpse baking in the desert sun, the reader really feels it. The author is equally successful at capturing the aristocratic tone and manner of an English country house as well as a seedy, bohemian nightclub in London.
There is hope at the end, but a dubious kind of hope. There is the possibility for renewal but not necessarily redemption.
Boyd's images will linger long after the reader has turned the final page, haunting and insistent.
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