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An Ice-Cream War

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  1,445 ratings  ·  80 reviews
"Rich in character and incident, An Ice-Cream War fulfills the ambition of the historical novel at its best."
--The New York Times Book Review

Booker Prize Finalist

"Boyd has more than fulfilled the bright promise of [his] first novel. . . . He is capable not only of some very funny satire but also of seriousness and compassion."--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

1914. In...more
Paperback, 408 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Vintage Books (first published 1982)
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The Art of War by Sun TzuWith the Old Breed by Eugene B. SledgeGoodbye to All That by Robert GravesCitizen Soldiers by Stephen E. AmbroseThe Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
Best History Books on the topic of "WAR"
23rd out of 89 books — 34 voters
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony BurgessLucky Jim by Kingsley AmisA Month in the Country by J.L. CarrThe Children of Dynmouth by William TrevorA Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
Penguin Decades
17th out of 20 books — 7 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,486)
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Andrea
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
Stephen

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 Ge...more
John
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
Lucy
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...more
Caroline
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.
Deanne
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...more
 Olivermagnus
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.

T...more
Tony
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...more
Martin Boyle
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...more
Mark Speed
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...more
Sal Littlejohn
Apr 12, 2014 Sal Littlejohn rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Nick Brett
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...more
Alun
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,...more
Pam
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.
Philip
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
Jayne Charles
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...more
Paul
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...more
russell barnes
William Boyd does do good stories, doesn't he?

While the ghosts of Black Mischief, Catch-22 and Heart of the Matter lurk in the background (if you ignore the historical settings) An Ice-Cream War is bursting with Boyd's usual cynicism and wit, which fairly crackles for 300-odd pages.

Having gloried in the riot of the dysfunctional Cobb family life and surreal sites of jungle warfare, I found the ending strangely underwhelming - no blubbing this time ala Any Human Heart. However Boyd does rather sp...more
Blaine DeSantis
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...more
McNatty
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, a little heavy on the romance but Boyd is a fantastic writer. I found the setting in 'darkest' Africa completely intriguing. Boyd's insight into the way of life for a Westerner on the African continent is excellent. He also delivers a refreshing comic angle to his characters which is enjoyable. He creates rivalries and conflicts between leading individuals who humorously curse each other in a light hearted way which is amusing. The frustrations for Felix, the surviv...more
Andy Weston
It was my last Boyd novel to read, and certainly one of the best.

To me they seem to fit into 3 categories: the fun ones (Armadillo, Good Man In Africa), the semi-serious (Restless, Ordinary Thunderstorms and Brazzaville Beach), and the top (New Confessions, Any Human Heart and this). just here will the new Bond fit in I wonder? My guess is middle.

This rating doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed them any differently - just the frame if mind he us in when he writes I think. Common themes of spies, Afri...more
Shaoola
The setting & events Sort of took me to a state of "behind the scenes" of war... A war that very little know of.

It's amazing how a war affects the lives of not only those involved in the actual battlefield but also those far off from it. A war does re-write a history of a whole nation and the history of almost every individual within the range of the war climate...
I enjoyed the language use and here are some of my favorite lines from the novel
-"It is far too hot for sustained fighting, he s...more
Lucie Novak
THis book about First World War in AFrica was not only a good novel, but it also told me things I did not know. I liked the descriptions of the rapid change of relations between the German and English neighbours when the war starts.
Well written, interesting subject.
Kathleen Wells
I havent read any books by William Boyd before and have heard good things. This book was enjoyable nicely threading the stories together about a topic I wasnt aware of before - WW1 in East Africa. I look forward to reading another book of his.
Hanaan
This was pretty boring, though it did improve in the second half. It tells the story of WWI in the East African colonies, through the eyes of some not very compelling, though sometimes sympathetic, characters. It wasn't terrible but I don't recommend it. I barely bothered to finish it. It was shortlisted for the Booker - what could the prize committee have been thinking? Amazingly, after having read Brazzaville Beach, Restless, some of A Good Man in Africa (also didn't like), and this one, I con...more
Sandy
I began reading this books years ago and never finished it. Picked it up recently and have now completed it. Enjoyable depiction of a certain time and place in history but, in my opinion, not his best book.
Mackay
An interesting, often amusing book. It's fat but reads fast. The characters always felt a little thin to me, in motives and depth of depiction, but they served the book well, and it is worth reading. It's very good at conveying colonial Africa, as well as Edwardian England of a certain class, though sometimes I felt the author conflated Edwardian/Great War England with the Lost Generation. These characters are lost before the war begins.

Mostly, I think this book is about families. No, it's not a...more
Frances
Half gritty war novel, half Waughesque comedy - I wasn't too keen on the mix of the two. Beautifully written as you'd expect.
Trywords
So disappointed in this book from one of my favourite writers (his Any Human Heart is one of my top ten novels) but I rather think my struggle with this one is more to do with me than the book.

An Ice Cream War by William Boyd is about, well, its about war in (mainly) East Africa and I rarely get through a book like this. Far too much on the work of war in this for me, so I skipped chunks and then finally realised I should give up and, oh how wonderful, time to choose something new to read.
Amanda Roberts
I love William Boyd but this one wasn't my favourite. Beautifully written as ever, but I got a bit bogged down with the military detail. Wheech Browning though, what a wonderful character.
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8170
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
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