An Ice Cream War by William Boyd (Penguin)
by Patrick O’Connor
THERE have been plenty of novels which have used the First World War as a backdrop but this offering by acclaimed British writer William Boyd takes a look at the little known East African campaign and shows how it impacted on several characters.
Before conflict erupts, American expat Temple Smith is on good terms with his German half English neighbour Erich von Bishop but then has his plantation burnt by von Bishop and becomes a penniless refugee, forced to join the British forces.
Then there is Felix Cobb who decides to study at Oxford University rather than follow the example set by his older brother Gabriel who joins up and is posted to Africa. This relationship is complicated by the fact that when Gabriel becomes a POW Felix, back in the safety of England enters into an affair with Gabriel’s wife. However events eventually lead him to follow in his brother’s footsteps and embark for Africa.
Not only is Smith distraught at losing his land to the Germans, he is also obsessed with finding out what happened to his new decorticator – a machine to reduce sisal plants to fibre for rope- which has seemingly disappeared.
Boyd skilfully intertwines these two strands at the same time as pouring scorn on the ineptitude of both armies.
The author seems to have carried out extensive research to give his story a very authentic feel. There has been little attention paid in other works of fiction as to how Britain and Germany fought each other on a continent far aware from the bloody battlefields of Europe, a conflict which also had a big impact on the native population and forces drafted in from other colonies.