An Ice-Cream War
|Genre||black comedy, war novel|
|LC Class||PR6052.O9192 I2 1999|
An Ice-Cream War (1982) is a darkly comic war novel by British author William Boyd, which was nominated for a Booker Prize in the year of its publication. The title is derived from a quote in a letter (included in British editions of the book but not the American ones) "Lt Col Stordy says that the war here will only last two months. It is far too hot for sustained fighting, he says, we will all melt like ice-cream in the sun!"
The first character introduced is Temple Smith (Walter Smith in the US edition), an American expatriate farm-owner/mechanic/engineer who runs a successful sisal plantation in British East Africa near Mount Kilimanjaro. Before war breaks out in August 1914, Smith is on cordial terms with his German half-English neighbour, Erich von Bishop. Smith even shops for coffee plant seedlings at the botanical garden in the capital of German East Africa, Dar es Salaam. Major von Bishop burns Smith's sisal and linseed plantation in the opening campaign of the Great War, and then dismantles the massive Decorticator, the industrial centrepiece of Smith's sisal farm operations. Now made a penniless refugee, and unable to secure any war reparations from the colonial British bureaucracy, Smith places his wife and children with his missionary father-in-law and joins the British military forces in Nairobi, pursuing personal vengeance against von Bishop over the next four years of war in East Africa.
The second narrative strand involves Felix Cobb, the studious youngest son of an aristocratic and traditional British military family, everyone of whom he despises apart from his older brother Gabriel, a captain. The latter soon marries his sweetheart Charis (inspiring a certain jealousy in Felix), but war breaks out while Gabriel is on his honeymoon in Normandy, and he makes haste back to his regiment. Gabriel is posted to Africa, where he befriends psychotic fellow soldier Bilderbeck and is quickly wounded by German soldiers. Whilst recovering in a Prisoner of War hospital, he develops an infatuation for Erich von Bishop's plump, stubborn wife Liesl, who works there as a nurse.
The novel could be considered a satire on the ineptitude of authority in wartime. A recurring character, District Officer Wheech-Browning, spreads chaos wherever he goes, such that Smith observes that every time he goes somewhere with Wheech-Browning, someone in their company meets an unfortunate death.
|“||Its characters - the survivors in particular - are mercilessly knocked about by the force of historical circumstance: by the war, by the problems of commanding men whose culture they do not understand and whose language they do not even speak, by the influenza epidemic that followed immediately upon the Armistice. But Mr. Boyd sees even domestic life, as Gabriel's and Felix's mother sees her marriage, as a relentless challenge, an unending struggle against appalling adverse conditions to get her own way. That bleak comic vision suggests the early Evelyn Waugh, and An Ice-Cream War is a good enough novel, for all its flaws, to persuade me that Mr. Boyd, who was born in 1952, may someday write a great one.||”|
- An Ice Cream War, The New York Times, February 27th, 1983, 'The Edges of the Great War', Michael Gorra  Note: site requires registration to view.
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