Customer Reviews


39 Reviews
5 star:
 (18)
4 star:
 (15)
3 star:
 (3)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
 (3)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


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 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but......
A very talented author, but this is not one of his best. It’s not a bad book in the least, just average when compared to the high standards set by many of his other books.
This has the setting of the First World war in Africa where in the fierce heat, the British are surprised that the European conflict has spread to the African continent. Against this...
Published 12 months ago by Nick Brett


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

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
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He always managed to kill a companion, 16 Sept. 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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 naïve 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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars you cant have enough ice cream., 6 July 2012
By 
A. Browne "avid reader" (Donegal Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This was one of the first William Boyd novels i ever read. It is so good that i have re-read it on two occasions.( this is a rarity as i have too many new books to read)
The story deals with the Great war in Africa. It is a great story, with solid characters , multiple plot lines and deals with topics such as nationalism,love, personal greed and ultimately the futility of war. The story carries you along never flags, unlike the real war. For an excellent history of the war check out "Tip and run" by Edward Price , be aware that this could lead you into geekdom. "An ice - cream war" lead me into William Boyd's novels and i have read them all. This book is an excellent introduction to a great author . William Boyd is an author who is continually changing and developing , you dont know what you will get each time and i have rarely been disappointed.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsentimental satire, 13 April 2012
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but......, 25 Mar. 2014
By 
Nick Brett (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
A very talented author, but this is not one of his best. It’s not a bad book in the least, just average when compared to the high standards set by many of his other books.
This has the setting of the First World war in Africa where in the fierce heat, the British are surprised that the European conflict has spread to the African continent. Against this setting William Boyd presents a range of characters through which we can experience some of the events and conflict and we have a perspective from both the UK and Africa.
Boyd’s usual talent is to bring both characters and events alive but here it is hard to immerse yourself in either the story or the individuals. While it remains interesting it stands short of being the ‘experience’ that you might hope for. I just didn’t care much about anyone and that is rare for a William Boyd novel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Quick and easy, through shock and awe..., 27 Feb. 2015
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
All too many wars are "sold" that way. Certainly some recent ones, as well as some that are now in the middle distance. We are currently commemorating the centennial of the "Great" one, as the First World War was once called. Norman Angell's The Great Illusion - The Original Classic Edition, first published in 1909 argued that a lengthy war in Europe was impossible due to the complex interlinking economic ties between the major countries. I finished William Boyd's excellent novel, and still did not realize why he had given it this title. Had to go to that very popular on-line encyclopedia to find the following: "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!"' Ah, yet another version of: "we'll be in Berlin (or is it Paris?) before the leaves turn."

Regrettably I had never heard of William Boyd until a fellow Amazon reviewer placed a copy of this book in my hand. Boyd is a brilliant storyteller, who composes a canvas that has just the right number of character types. It is neatly balanced between the soldiers and the civilians, some at the home front, others in a supporting role in the fighting. The principal ones are all British and German, with one lone American. Supporting roles are filled by largely unnamed African and Indians, who get cut to pieces at times, and at others, doing the cutting. Many of all nationalities die, not from a bullet or shell fragment, but from the diseases that are always present, and seem to attach themselves as part of the logistical train. And so many others get killed through accidents or "friendly fire."

The setting is East Africa, whose central portion was once fairly evenly divided between the British and the Germans, in countries now called Kenya and Tanzania. It commences with the sole American leading Theodore Roosevelt on a big-game hunt, and later deciding to try to farm there, selecting a farm that bordered German East. The war in East Africa was one of movement, and therefore a counterpoint to the trench warfare stalemate that characterized the European Western Front. But Boyd depicts in Africa the same folly, the same stupidity of the military leadership that occurred in Europe. The first Indian troops committed to the war land on the wrong beach. The leadership gives the German time to prepare the defenses. In another early battle the British leadership - an alcoholic general - "assumes" that certain hills will not be defended, and 600 South Africans die charging dug-in machine gun nests. The critical and deadly misunderstandings that occur in war are a constant thread in this novel.

Much of the novel is presented from the perspective of the Cobb family, who live in Kent, England. In particular, it is the story of two brothers, Gabriel, who is already a military professional based in India, and his younger brother, Felix, who was initially rejected by the military due to his eyesight. Felix, as a civilian during the first two years of the war, collects his share of white feathers from women, a custom whereby the woman is saying that you are a coward for not being in the military. The novel is a story of loves - and trysts - many of both dominated by significant fumbling. And there is also much duplicity and betrayals, as so often happens in love and war.

Boyd's novel unfolds in strict chronological fashion, with each chapter denoted by the date and location. I thought it was a subdued but brilliant touch to describe the novel's greatest tragedy on the civilian front on July 01, 1916, the same day that more than 20,000 British soldiers would "go over the top" on the Somme, and be mowed down by German machine guns. Boyd leaves that connection to the reader.

Boyd is a wonderful writer who has mastered both the essential elements of warfare as well as the human heart. 5-stars, plus.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars The citizen-armies of both sides are like children aiming sticks and yelling “bang-bang, 3 Dec. 2014
By 
T. F. Wells "Skink" (Chislehurst Kent UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is a novel of two stories.

The first takes place on the border between British and German East Africa. On the British side lives a walrus of an American, Temple Smith, who has invested well in sisal (the base product of twine) production and badly in everything else. On the German side is the lean, mean Anglo-German Erich von Bishop, whose “von” der Vaterland has appended to his English surname for services rendered to colonial agriculture. Von Bishop lives in less than bliss with his wife Liesl, who has just unwillingly returned from a year in Germany and is the one colonist on either side of the border with a lick of sense.

The second story takes place near Sevenoaks, Kent (a mere 17 miles from where I’m writing this) and involves the patrician Cobbs, a thorough-going military family except for youngest son Felix, an Oxford-bound champagne-radical. Felix’s father is a retired major and hang-‘em-or-flog-‘em conservative whose eldest son Gabriel and two sons-in-law are officers in service to His Majesty. As you might guess, the relationship between the Major and Felix is fraught.

The two stories merge when Felix joins the army in 1916 in order to find Gabriel, who became a prisoner of war shortly after his Indian-based regiment was ordered to East Africa in late 1914. The result is a deft satire of imperialism viewed through the prism of war. If colonial life is a touring-company version of the homeland scene, colonial war is amateur pantomime compared with the epic tragedy being played out in 1914-18 Europe. One day Temple Smith and Von Bishop are circumstantial colleagues, the next day Von Bishop is confiscating Temple’s farm in the name of a Germany even more remote in influence than it is geographically. The citizen-armies of both sides are like children aiming sticks and yelling “bang-bang,” except the sticks fire real bullets that hit the odd human target.

Into this fray come Gabriel Cobb’s barely more regular troops, whose beach landing is a textbook example of fighting the wrong war. The greatest enemies are not the regular German troops and their native allies but thorny thickets and swarms of bees. By the time Gabriel’s brother Felix lands in Africa two years later, military tactics have not improved one dot but bureaucracy has grown manfully. Through grit, guile and good fortune, Felix wends his way toward the prison camp in which Gabriel is being held, just as the Great War in Europe and the proxy one in Africa are drawing to a close.

The title of the novel comes from an actual 1914 letter, written by a British East African volunteer to his sister in England, in which he tells her, “Lt. Col. Stordy says the war will last only two months. It is all too hot for sustained fighting, he says, we will all melt like ice cream in the sun!” To those eager to invade Syria or re-invade Iraq with ground troops, nothing has changed in 100 years. It may start like a party with a big banner reading MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, but two months later…
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating description of WW1 in Africa, 6 Oct. 2014
By 
hfffoman (Kent) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
An Ice-cream War tracks the lives of a range of 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. I have read several novels that describe battle scenes. By contrast with this the others are caricatures while Boyd's descriptions give very realistic feeling for what it must have been like for those involved.

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 credit 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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

An Ice-cream War (Penguin Decades)
£4.35
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews