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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, informative, and an enjoyable read
The other reviews have summarised what the book is about. I will explain why I think it is so worth while reading.

An Ice-cream War tracks the lives of a range of interesting characters whose lives are turned upside down (or destroyed) by the first world war. It starts with three or four separate threads which gradually converge to reach a climax of....I...
Published on 18 April 2007 by hfffoman

versus
1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Book for myself
I chose this book for a book club choice, and throughly enjoyed it however the copy was in a terrible state and if it had been mine would have been too ashmed to give to a charity shop.
Published 20 months ago by helen jones


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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, informative, and an enjoyable read, 18 April 2007
By 
hfffoman (Kent) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Ice-cream War (Paperback)
The other reviews have summarised what the book is about. I will explain why I think it is so worth while reading.

An Ice-cream War tracks the lives of a range of interesting characters whose lives are turned upside down (or destroyed) by the first world war. It starts with three or four separate threads which gradually converge to reach a climax of....I won't spoil it but will say that it is beautifully consistent with the only possible message one can draw from the war as seen by those caught up in it - pointless, random, gruesome and incomprehensible. Boyd has a terrific way of showing these different aspects in a way that is at the same time serious and funny.

He does all this while giving the reader a vivid feel for the times: the artificial complacent English world that was swept away by the war, and the awfulness of the war itself. Both of these we have all been told about but rarely have we seen them brought to life in a way that is both accurate and touches the heart.

The book additionally deserves thanks for bringing to light the achievement of the brilliant leader of the German forces in Africa. Von Lettow-Vorbeck, with a tiny contingent of troops, sucked in a massive part of the allies' fighting and support resources, made the only incursion in to British territory in the entire war, and taunted the allies into chasing him around Africa from the beginning of the war until after it ended.

Finally spare a thought for the Africans who were appallingly treated by both sides. The campaign in Africa was every bit as awful, if not worse, than the better known horrors of the trenches in France.

I heartily recommend this book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Boyd's Best Books - but not an ice-cream in sight, 26 Mar 2007
This review is from: An Ice-cream War (Paperback)
Set in East Africa and Kent during the First world War, this story has every ingredient for a great story; passion, betrayal, love, hate, heroism, revenge, gallantry, stupidy, comedy, tragedy, in fact all human life.

The story has great pace that is maintained throughout. Whether they're loathsome or loveable all the characters are extremely well drawn and the way they deal with the events they are caught up in never fails to keep you facsinated.

William Boyd has a lightness of touch that enables him to deal with cruelty and futility in a way that doesn't leave you feeling down. He can be comical without being irreverent. In this respect he must be unique.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He always managed to kill a companion, 16 Sep 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Ice-cream War (Paperback)
British and German forces fought to preserve their colonial rights in Africa during the First World War and in many ways it was a completely different war from the one raging in Europe. As William Boyd shows in this brilliantly insightful book, there was a large measure of farce, as well as privation for the troops (many of which were Indian or African) and errors of leadership from the buffoons at the top. The British won the war by virtue of troop deployment and dogged determination, but there is a little glory that can be attached to the confusions and desperations involved.

What becomes clear in this book is the way the different ranks were treated, with officers under capture on both sides being billeted in bungalows or houses with their servants and the lower ranks herded into stockades like so many captured cattle. It is mainly the upper ranks we follow as we are introduced to rival plantations in East Africa, one owned by a German and another by an American, both replete with wives of varying indifference, composure and appetites.

The scene then shifts to England, to the life and times of a well-born family consisting of Gabriel and Felix and assorted sisters and their husbands. The family has army connections, exemplified by their father, an irascible and unbalanced old cove. Gabriel marries Charis, a young and nave woman with no great connections and off they go on their honeymoon in France. Then war interrupts their awkward induction into intimacy and Gabriel is posted to Africa. Felix, who is a pacifist, much derided by his father, at first goes off to Oxford to get a degree. When he is shamed into trying to enlist his weak eyes prevent it, though later in the war this is brushed aside and he is given a commission with an African regiment.

Gabriel's time in Africa takes up much of the central portion of the book, and the connections between the characters introduced earlier become more contingent to the plot. Felix begins an affair with Charis, but a tragedy occurs and he sets out to find his brother. There are many nuances to which a straight recounting of the plot does not do justice.
This is a cleverly layered and complex story of people at war and the horrors they are forced to endure. There is much bleak humour, including an intelligence officer whose doomed expeditions always manage to kill one or other of his companions. William Boyd is superb at creating characters and settings that live on the page. His feeling for place is faultless and his humane but unflinching sensibilities infuse every moment with reality.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsentimental satire, 13 April 2012
By 
Jack Heslop - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Ice-cream War (Paperback)
I read An Ice-Cream War for my English A-levels, and was stunned by what a savage black comedy it turned out to be. A lot of World War I novels are, naturally, violent in their depictions of battle, but An Ice-Cream War felt especially harrowing due to the nihilism beneath the violence. For me the most powerful scene involved a man discovering that German soldiers have desecrated his daughter's grave, but seeming unaffected by this; however, when he realises they've destroyed his farm machines he swears revenge.
This portrayal of a human being moved more by the destruction of machines than his infant daughter's scattered bones makes a dark statement about our natures. Are we all capable of this extreme desensitisation? I hope not.
An Ice-Cream War is also a very funny novel. The mutilation of a pretentious English soldier is rounded off with a cynical punch line. This approach to carnage by a WWI story is radical. Most approach the subject matter one of two ways: with light humour sometimes hinting at poignancy (Blackadder Goes Forth, for instance) or solemn stoicism. To write a story which is both unsentimental and brittlely funny about war is brave of Boyd. Too often we're patronised with po-faced portraits of hero figures.
Boyd's characters are selfish; adulterous; perverted and demented in some cases. Felix Cobb's father is a portly, red-faced monster who storms about waving at maps and screaming; in other stories he'd be a light buffoon, gently poked fun at, but Boyd takes no prisoners, painting him instead as the unbalanced psycho he is. That sheer unsentimentality endeared me to the novel. I didn't feel Boyd pushing me to sympathise with anyone or draw conclusions; he isn't arrogant enough to assume an understanding of life and war.
I wouldn't recommend An Ice-Cream War to everyone. Many will think it mean-spirited and gross. Besides the violence there's also a wealth of eye-watering sexual detail, such as a woman who does intimate things with sponges. But for those who can stomach its grislier turns, An Ice-Cream War is an incisive black comedy.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Boyd paints the absurdity of the war as it relates to his African setting in the best tradition of "war as a tragic farce" stori, 24 July 2014
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Ice-Cream War (Vintage International) (Paperback)
For some reason, despite being a huge fan of William Boyd's writing for going on twenty years, I'd never gotten around to reading this -- his second published novel -- until this week. I suppose it's kind of a delayed gratification thing, with Boyd I know I'm going to be in the hands of an able storyteller whose sure plotting and smooth prose is going to be a pleasure.

The titular war is the faceoff between British and German troops in their colonial possessions in East Africa (present-day Kenya and Tanzania) during World War I. (My guess is that 97% of the people who are aware that there even was fighting in East Africa during World War I, probably learned of it via The African Queen.) The three main characters are Temple Smith, and brothers Gabriel and Felix Cobb. Smith is an American sisal farmer on British land not too far from Mt. Kilimanjaro. The Cobbs are the kind of upper class types familiar to viewers of Downton Abbey or readers of Evelyn Waugh. Gabriel is in the Army and gets posted to Africa, where his capture becomes part of the catalyst for Felix joining up and finagling an African assignment in order to find him.

Boyd paints the absurdity of the war as it relates to his African setting in the best tradition of "war as a tragic farce" stories, while at the same time, devoting equal, if not greater time to the war's effect on domestic lives. The former is told mainly through Smith's efforts to expand his farming operation, only to see it captured by native troops led his politely enervating German neighbor. His quest for reparations is tragicomic and utterly human. Meanwhile, we trace the Cobb brothers from their prewar lives and loves, as the war batters them about with somewhat less comedy and rather more tragedy. Along the way, glimpses at the Army operations show the confusion and chaos of it all.

As always, Boyd is a treat to read. The story is a nice mix of antiwar satire and domestic melodrama, definitely of interest to readers of historical fiction. The melodramatic elements may be ever so slightly too strong, taking it a peg down from his best books, but that still places it in the top 10%.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book you read with a smile., 22 Sep 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: An Ice-cream War (Paperback)
I am currently reading An Ice Cream War, and I really enjoy it ! As a French native speaker, I'd like to point out the fluency of Boyd's language and his subtle sense of humour (which sounds so British to me !). I've already read A Good Man in Africa before, and I expected to "meet" again his comic and rather pathetic characters, with all their failings, weaknesses and foibles which are so human. The story is actually composed of two parallel stories, one taking place in German and English East Africa, and the other in England during World War 1, the two stories being eventually interwoven thanks to the characters' fates. I am so eager to know what will happen to them all...and at the same time so unwilling to finish it ! (sorry for the mistakes in English)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning portrayal of the British class system in early 20th century, 1 Nov 2012
This review is from: An Ice-cream War (Paperback)
As a native Brit, I found this novel both stunning and very disturbing in its depiction of British society at various levels of income and education at the time of the First World War. Boyd's cast of characters is so fully fleshed out that any movie director would have no trouble at all in casting each character.

Boyd's sensitive and insightful understanding of both individual psychology (repression, depression, mania, identity problems, mother fixation, etc.) and social psychology (conformity, duty, guilt, etc.) makes the book worth reading just for these insights alone.

Of particular interest to me were the insights provided into the unhealthy mental states of many of the characters, resulting from the repressive British mentality of self-control and 'stiff upper lip.' How much better are our lives now that we can admit to the existence of problems and seek professional help where needed. In those days, people either 'toughed it out' or sought escape in whatever way they could through smoking, drinking, detachment, self-imposed exile, nihilism, or suicide.

Add to all that the highly detailed portrayal of the little-known military action in British and German East Africa. The theaters of war in Europe, Africa, and India are clearly and carefully described and inspired me to seek out further information in order to follow the action.

The portrait of university days in Oxford University was also very interesting. In the 1900s, the only prerequisite for admission was a monied background, thereby preserving a university education almost entirely for male members of the upper-classes who then went straight into the government or the military. The fortuitous management of many of the military campaigns described by Boyd was due no doubt to the lack of communications technologies but also to the widespread nonchalance, if not incompetence, of officers whose only qualification was a sense of 'noblesse oblige.' Their awful treatment of indigenous soldiers (who were blithely shipped about from one continent to another throughout the British Empire) should make any white reader cringe with shame.

"An Ice-Cream War" can be read at several levels simultaneously and should appeal to a broad range of readers. The style of writing is taut, colorful, satirical, and moving, and I finished the book feeling true pain for the sufferings of each character. The novel demonstrates how no one escaped pain during WW1, even though most Brits were led to believe it would be short-lived and concluded at little personal cost.

The only minor observation that I can make about the edition of the book that I read is the terrible quality of the map at the front of the book. This is so small as to be quite useless. Two or three good maps would have helped immeasurably to follow the movements of protagonists in East Africa.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not as good as some of his other work, 24 Nov 2008
By 
legslikeaspider (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: An Ice-cream War (Paperback)
William Boyd is probably my favourite author at the moment. This is one of his earliest novels and if I wasn't aware of the incredibly high standard of some his later work (Restless is one of the 10 best books I have read) then I would have given this one 5 stars. The absurdity of war is described really well and especially the complete incompetence of the generals leading the British military during the first world war - for example a troop ship is instructed to drop anchor for 16 days just one nautical mile out of its departure port while it awaits the formation of a convoy. I also found the book highly educational - I had not been aware of the details of the campaign in East Africa and from what I can see, Boyd did his research thoroughly. A humbling, thought provoking book. Buy it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This author is fantastic, 29 May 2014
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Another great book from Boyd. He has his own style but this book reminded me of Waugh's Sword of Honour Trilogy and was all the better for that as I have been searching for a book about war to match the quality of that trilogy for many years. It really captures the sadness, absurdity and futility of war but also has moments of genuine humour, well done.
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5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent read, 10 May 2014
Read for book club - all English teachers. Everyone said how well written it is. We all learned about WW1 in E. Africa, too. Very evocotive.
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An Ice-Cream War (Vintage International)
An Ice-Cream War (Vintage International) by William Boyd (Paperback - Oct 1999)
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