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An Ice-Cream War

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  2,134 Ratings  ·  117 Reviews
1914. In a hotel room in German East Africa, American farmer Walter Smith dreams of Theodore Roosevelt. As he sleeps, a railway passenger swats at flies, regretting her decision to return to the Dark Continent--and to her husband. On a faraway English riverbank, a jealous Felix Cobb watches his brother swim, and curses his sister-in-law-to-be. And in the background of the ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1982)
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Dec 05, 2015 ·Karen· rated it liked it
Shelves: brits
William Boyd never fails to please.
Can I say that?
Sounds a bit ambiguous.
But this is a site for book readers, no-one will see any kind of innuendo there, surely? On the other hand, I suppose the gr guidelines might kick in, someone might flag it for inappropriate content or something.
Ok, just to be on the safe side:
A William Boyd never fails to please.
No, stupid, this is not another person with an embarrassing given name that he doesn't use, something like Archibald or Algernon. I'd have used a
Oct 28, 2014 Lucynell rated it really liked it
What a strange book this is. I picked it up because after Lila I thought it'd be nice to read something 'light,' a comedy in this case, about a bunch of half-mad Englishmen in East Africa during the First World War. That's how ignorant I can get. It is 'light' in the same way that say, The Beatles' Blue Album is light - that it's certainly no didactic, that it's lively and frisky and that action and response, not vague morality, means everything. And it's so well made, so well executed, continuo ...more
Mar 05, 2013 Andrea rated it really liked it
Shelves: east-africa
This historical novel set in Tanzania, Kenya and the UK during WW I, is darkly humorous and beautifully detailed. The focus is on a group of people whose own lives and plans are spun into disarray by the war and its consequences. Von Bishop enjoys farming in German East Africa, but his wife, Liesl, longs to return to Germany. Across the border, the American, Walter, cares about little in life by his farm, his sisal decorticator, and his future agricultural plans. In England, the Cobb family drif ...more
Jun 07, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
As a fan of Boyd's I approach an unread, older book of his with some trepidation, in case it disappoints. But An Ice Cream War was one of the books that rightly made his early reputation and is a better novel than the comic A Good Man in Africa, which is clever but much less subtle. It takes a while to get into this second novel but the effort is worth it. The novel is best when it shifts its setting exclusively to East Africa, and there develops a complex plot with a surprising and clever twist ...more
Jonathan Pool
My favourite Boyd (among many great books).
I felt the breath of my adversary on the back of my neck as I metaphorically ran for my life.

As a successor to Graham Greene I rate Boyd very highly
Roger Brunyate
Jun 10, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it really liked it
Shelves: ww1
An African Tragicomedy

Let's face it: a terrible title for a rather good book. The subject is WW1 as fought in Africa between the colonies of British East Africa (roughly Kenya) and German East Africa (roughly Tanzania)—the war that forms the background to C. S. Forester's novel The African Queen and the Bogart/Hepburn movie made from it, but is otherwise not much written about. Compared to the carnage in Flanders, it was a minor front, but far from being the walkover envisioned by a soldier wr
Tracy Terry
Jul 03, 2015 Tracy Terry rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
'Contrasts the fortunes of those languishing at home with those fighting abroad'. Jumping around between 'home' (England) and 'abroad' (East Africa) often with large gaps between where we left off that aspect of the story to re-joining it I'm afraid for me the narrative just didn't flow well.

Despite their obsession with genitals and frank sexual talk I much preferred the 'home' episodes spent with the Cobb family, brothers Felix and Gabriel, and their wonderfully dreadful father, Major Cobb (po
Oct 05, 2012 Deanne rated it really liked it
Great book about two brothers and their experiences during the first world war, and the seemingly forgotten exsistence of the war in Africa. I've only read 2 books set in this place and time, African Queen and this, stacked against those set in Europe at the same time. The title of the book also has meaning, a war which everyone seems to think would melt away like ice-cream.
Felt sorry for Gabriel, the older brother who seems younger, more trusting than Felix. It's also Felix who the book seems t
Mar 20, 2016 KerryH rated it liked it
I hovered between three and four stars for this early book of William Boyd's. It did take a long time to engage my interest and I kept reading because it was a Boyd. And there was a very funny description of the wedding night from hell in the first third of the book. I am glad I did persevere, because once this story moved into that little-known backwater of WWI, East Africa, it became a much better read. There are moments of black humour, some graphic descriptions of horrible deaths in the Afri ...more
Aug 28, 2012 Lucy rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, 2012
A highly emotive book, chock-full of of black humour and complex characters.

I think William Boyd is one of my favourite authors. He writes completely wonderfully, believably flawed, darkly humorous characters. I would call him a Dickens of the 20th/21st Century, but that would suggest that I had actually ever read any Dickens.

This book follows the Cobb brothers and their experiences in WW1. Gabriel is the admired older brother who turns out to be a bit of a wet blanket whilst Felix is the feckle
Apr 01, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
WWI was fought not only in Europe but also in East Africa, especially between the British and the German armies. This Anglo-German war provides the backdrop for the intertwining drama in the lives of an American, a pair of English brothers and a German couple.

Boyd's strength in this historical fiction is the satirical humor he manages to inject in what are some very horrific and tragic situations brought upon by the war.
Jan 31, 2016 Martha rated it really liked it
William Boyd is a great storyteller. He casts a smart and clear eye on the bumblings of mankind. Boyd focuses here on East Africa in WWI. It is darkly comic and overwhelmingly sad. It is as if we are looking through a microscope and see the swirling and bumping of the clueless and the cruel which is the same swirling and bumping, the same clueless and cruel players of the whole world at war.
Jun 26, 2009 Pam rated it it was amazing
I love this author. I love his writing. This is historical fiction at it's best. East Africa...early 1900's...couldn't be better.
Aug 27, 2014 Philip rated it really liked it
An Ice Cream War by William Boyd is set in East Africa and England - with an occasional excursion to the Indian Sub-Continent - prior to and during the First World War. It is not a novel primarily about the war, nor does it focus on its African landscape, though the context and setting do significantly contribute throughout. An Ice Cream War is a novel about people and about how their interrelationships are disrupted or destroyed by a conflict that is not of their making. It’s also a novel about ...more
Sep 22, 2016 Yolande rated it liked it
Should have given this four stars because it is well written but I'm not so interested in all the war detail it contains so I hurried through some bits.
Jul 23, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: loanable, novels
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
Martin Boyle
Aug 11, 2016 Martin Boyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
How to put this? A book about misunderstandings, of failures of communication is perhaps the underlying theme of this greatly enjoyable read.

Almost from the start are the two-way failures of understanding, of empathy, and these keep recurring through the novel - sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes catastrophic.

And through the novel runs a theme of an irrational desire for revenge at any price. I could not help thinking of the Glasgow Ice-cream Wars and kept wondering whether Boyd had
Jayne Charles
Aug 06, 2011 Jayne Charles rated it liked it
An entertaining and occasionally laugh out loud account of warfare in East Africa during WWI. As with many of William Boyd's books, the reader has to pick the plot out from the very dense background detail and though the writing is of a consistently high standard, it can be difficult at times. It certainly took me a while to get into this novel - but once the 'egregious' Cobb family made their appearance, the entertainment level certainly moved up a notch or two.

Events alternate between the far
Sep 07, 2014 Olivermagnus rated it really liked it
An Ice Cream War is the story of American, German, and British lives in the little-known East African theater of World War I. As indicated by the book title, the British expected the campaign to be a joke. The action takes place mostly in the European colonies of East Africa and England between 1914 and 1919. Some of the characters expect war, and some doubt it will occur, but none of the characters have any idea how devastating the war will be to everyone, even those far from the battlefield.

Jan 30, 2016 Stephen rated it really liked it

An Ice Cream War
1982 William Boyd
408 pages

Although most of the action of the Great War took place in Europe, it spread throughout the world wherever Europe's nations had allies or colonies. An Ice Cream War is a novel of the first world war set in southern Africa, with the battles between British and German colonial forces serving as background for all of the plot threads, and the active component of many. Its principle characters include an English farmer who is displaced and ruined by his Ger
Dec 08, 2010 Paul rated it liked it
Spoilers ahead. Looking back at it I think the writer wanted to show the real effects of war on normal people. Nobody gets what they want, if you don't die you know somebody who does and things just arn't fair. The end is especially sad when one brother dies needlessly, right before he could have been rescued and the other brother is denied his revenge when a man dies of the flu, before the revenge can take place.

The main characters were; Two English brothers, one had a wife. An American with a
Mark Speed
Mar 04, 2014 Mark Speed rated it it was amazing
One of Boyd's earlier novels, from a better time when he would choose an historical period, research it and then populate it with well-drawn characters.

The setting is East Africa during WWI, with the opening shots of the war played out between two rival farmers who had been friends and neighbours up until the declaration. Other characters join the fray from Europe, and bungling military decisions mix with human emotions to produce a rich story. There's a wealth of marvellous detail here, played
Mar 22, 2016 Lesley rated it really liked it
I found this a fascinating insight about the First World War as it was fought in Africa. The disputed territory, East Africa, seems to have been divided between the Germans, the English and the Portuguese, all living cheek by jowl along the borders.
The narrative is shared by an American settler, Temple Smith, his neighbour, the German Erich Von Bishop, and two English brothers from Kent who come from a military background. Erich's wife, Leisl, is an interesting additional character, but the cen
Graham S
Nov 16, 2015 Graham S rated it it was ok
I feel I ought to like this more given the author's reputation, but it never gripped me in any way.
In principle, seeing the war in this part of Africa through the experiences of a few characters should be a winning formula. However, I did not see the need to dwell so long in an English country house and none of the Cobbs appealed to me. Gabriel seemed a caricature of a public schoolboy turned army officer of the era. We would expect that he would struggle with personal relationships but why we w
Elizabeth Sulzby
Feb 17, 2016 Elizabeth Sulzby rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Somewhat interesting in that it is set in "German East Africa" and "Portuguese East Africa" and surrounding parts of east Africa during World War I. Blurbs on the back of my paperback gave this book high praise including this comment which I found totally baffling: "the irrepressible human capacity for love." The characters seem to have little capacity for love, but lots of extramarital affairs, with little capacity for talking about their feelings, especially sex.

I found the characters so anno
Jun 08, 2015 RedSaab rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, book-club
Boyd at his accomplished best. Able to transport the reader effortlessly into ostensibly unpromising territory (East Africa? 1914-18?) and bring his large cast of disparate characters absorbingly alive. This epic story has it all - a chaotic and pointless war, meandering adventure, travelogue, family, frustrated love and shocking loss. Boyd seamlessly intermingles episodes of romance, drama and thriller with dark comedy, punctuated with moments of delirious farce reminiscent of Tom Sharpe. I esp ...more
Sal Littlejohn
Apr 12, 2014 Sal Littlejohn rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
I found this book very enjoyable. It manages to combine some very comic, grotesque characters and incidents with a great deal of tenderness and insight. In fact, probably, war is like that - full of contradictions. There are plans that go stupidly wrong, love affairs doomed to fail, unlikely passions driving people to strange, crazy actions, people not knowing what the heck's going on and why. The writer manages to steer a course among all these disparate and apparently incompatible moods and si ...more
Blaine DeSantis
Aug 24, 2013 Blaine DeSantis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful book. I give it about a 4.5. Lately I seemed to have been picking up a lot of books and novels that deal with WW1. And "An Ice-Cream War" certainly did not disappoint.

A wonderful story that looks at the lives of 2 families, and the senseless destruction from a war that just supposed to melt away by Christmas. It did not happen, and the suffering of so many people are vividly brought to the forefront in this book.

What makes the book unique is its setting, which mostly is in East
Nick Brett
Mar 25, 2014 Nick Brett rated it liked it
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
Aug 18, 2014 Alun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I read the short review, I was expecting something different. I found the novel amusing as well as really capturing some of the triviality that leads to conflict. The title was fully justified. I like Boyd's style and his characters, I could picture with all their foibles, imagined slights and unjustified airs and graces. I liked the relationships. They were seeded with trouble even where some were perhaps cameos designed to represent a type.

Some stories disappoint when they come to little,
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Of Scottish descent, Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana on 7th March, 1952 and spent much of his early life there and in Nigeria where his mother was a teacher and his father, a doctor. Boyd was in Nigeria during the Biafran War, the brutal secessionist conflict which ran from 1967 to 1970 and it had a profound effect on him.

At the age of nine years he attended Gordonstoun school, in Moray, Scotland an
More about William Boyd...

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