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An Ice-Cream War (1982) is a darkly comic war novel by Scottish author William Boyd, which was nominated for a Booker Prize in the year of its publication.


The story focuses on the battle fought in East Africa between British and Germanmarker forces during World War One, and how it affects several individual people whose paths will eventually converge.

The first character introduced is Walter Smith, an American expatriate farm owner/mechanic/engineer who runs a successful sisal plantation in British East Africa near Mount Kilimanjaromarker. Before war breaks out in August 1914, Smith is on cordial terms with his German half-English neighbour, Erich von Bishop. Smith even shops for coffee plant seedlings at the botanical garden in the capital of German East Africa, Dar es Salaammarker. Major von Bishop burns Smith's sisal and linseed plantation in the opening campaign of the Great War, and then dismantles the massive Decorticator, the industrial centerpiece of Smith's sisal farm operations. Now made a penniless refugee, and unable to secure any war reparations from the colonial British bureaucracy, Smith parks his wife and children with his missionary father-in-law and joins the British military forces in Nairobimarker, pursuing personal vengeance against von Bishop over the next four years of war in East Africa.

The second narrative strand involves Felix Cobb, the studious youngest son of an aristocratic and traditional British military family, everyone of whom he despises apart from his older brother Gabriel, a captain. The latter soon marries his sweetheart Charis (inspiring a certain jealousy in Felix), but World War I breaks out while Gabriel is on his honeymoon in Normandy, and he makes haste back to his regiment. Gabriel is posted to Africa, where he befriends psychotic fellow soldier Bilderbeck and is quickly wounded by German soldiers. Whilst recovering in a POW hospital, he develops an infatuation for Erich von Bishop's plump, stubborn wife Liesl, who works there as a nurse...

The novel could be considered a satire on the ineptitude of authority in wartime. A recurring character, English District Officer Wheech-Browning, spreads chaos wherever he goes, such that Smith observes that every time he goes somewhere with Wheech-Browning, someone in their company meets an unfortunate death.


The novel evokes suggestions of the early Evelyn Waugh as a critic of The New York Times wrote at its time of publication:


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