Eldest son breaks with a proud family tradition and finds himself saddled with a brotherly debt
In his bestseller Mama Tandoori, Ernest van der Kwast painted a vivid and hilarious portrait of an immigrant family. The Ice Cream Makers is every bit as entertaining while tapping into a deeper seam of emotion. It is a delightful and sensual tale of poetry, love, family ties and the art of ice cream making.
Van der Kwast’s fourth novel centres on the Talamini family, the embodiment of generations of Italian ice cream makers. Every spring they make the journey from their home in Northern Italy to their ice cream parlour in Rotterdam, returning to their fatherland in the winter. Eldest son Giovanni goes against the grain; instead of entering the family business, he decides to pursue a literary career. This has far-reaching consequences for the entire family.
While Giovanni travels the world as a poetry-festival programmer, his brother Luca takes up the family business with Sophia, a beauty who has been the object of both brothers’ affections from an early age. Luca feels abandoned by Giovanni and refuses to speak to him for twelve years. When he breaks the silence it is to make a dramatic request. He is infertile and demands that Giovanni fathers a child with Sophia, on condition that he tells no one. The result is Giuseppe, a boy who would rather listen to poetry than operate an ice cream machine. When Giuseppe suddenly decides to head out into the big wide world, the family tradition seems to have ended for ever.
The Ice Cream Makers describes the fate of two brothers whose lives are bound up together, both of whom have made sacrifices on their chosen paths: the family man who slaves away all day over an ice cream machine and the lonely poetry lover who is only permitted to be an uncle to his own son.
The narrative is richly laced with incisive accounts of poetry festivals and anecdotes, some mythical, about ice cream making. Van der Kwast’s tone is infectious, whether he is dealing with first-time happiness, parenthood or missed opportunities.
A line of poetry by Patrick Lane, a favourite of Giovanni’s, resonates through the book: ‘What do you do with the parts of yourself you have lost?’ This sets a melancholy undertone to the novel’s otherwise light-hearted style. The result is a wonderful mix of flavours worthy of master ice cream maker Luca.