The Ice-Cream Makers by Ernest van der Kwast

Ernest van der Kwast’s book is told from the viewpoint of Giovanni Calamine but is ostensibly the story of his family and his relationships with people within it especially his father, Beppi, his brother, Luca and his nephew, Giuseppe.

Giovanni is the older brother in a family of ice-cream makers from a small Italian village who has the weight of the family’s expectations and traditions on his shoulders: he is expected to follow in the family business and become an ice-cream maker himself. He has a younger brother, Luca with whom he is close and their childhood is made up of fantasies about the new flavours they will develop together when the business becomes theirs. However, Giovanni betrays this familial legacy by becoming involved in the world of poetry, his eyes being opened to a world broader than that of the ice-cream maker. This causes a lot of family strife and Luca, once Giovanni makes his decision to leave, chooses not to speak to him, cutting off the filial love for his brother as a punishment for his defection.

This then becomes a novel about Giovanni’s life outside of the world of ice-cream and is pleasantly strewn with poetic references, both quotes and the names of poets, which makes this quite a learned read as well as one of family, relationships and the pressure that the expectations of others can present to our individual happiness. This is a novel about finding your own path, even if it will hurt others but perhaps not turning your back on your past completely; recognising that the reason that you are able to stride out on your own is that you have the support and backbone provided by the people that you can always come back to, if need be.

It is also very sensual in its depictions of the women that inhabit the brothers’ lives but also in the tasting of the ice-cream and the flavours that are blended. It’s not like Chocolat by Joanne Harris in this but there is the idea of the enjoyment that cannot be underestimated from the taste of ice-cream.

Ernest van der Kwast has created a book about a family and the obligations that being part of one brings as well as the love and the inevitable tensions that underlie them. Easy to read with well-drawn characters, and an abundance of poetry, this was an enjoyable read.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery.

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