Legacy of Silence

Legacy of Silence

by Belva Plain

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In Legacy of Silence, New York Times bestselling author Belva Plain creates an unforgettable story of a remarkable family—and a deception that reaches across continents, oceans, and generations.
Caroline Hartzinger flees wartime Europe with a shattered life and a devastating secret. Pregnant and unwed, she arrives in America in 1939. Joel Hirsch offers marriage and respectability, hoping one day to earn her love, if not the passion she feels for a man whose memory still haunts them both. With Joel, Caroline builds a new life, determined to bury the past—until her daughter Eve brings Caroline’s carefully crafted world crashing down again, driven by a rage to learn the truth.
Now it is Eve’s secret, a legacy that taints her life and puts generations at risk. But with it comes a gift—a new sister, young enough to be her own daughter, who offers hope, then a truth that will finally break the hold of the past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440226406
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/13/1999
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 204,277
Product dimensions: 4.23(w) x 6.91(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Belva Plain captured readers' hearts with her first novel, Evergreen, which Delacorte published more than 30 years ago. It topped the New York Times best-seller list for 41 weeks and aired as an NBC-TV miniseries. In total, more than 20 of her books have been New York Times best sellers.

Before becoming a novelist,  Belva Plain wrote short stories for many major magazines, but taking care of a husband and three children did not give her the time to concentrate on the novel she had always wanted to write. When she looked back and said she didn't have the time, she felt as though she had been making excuses. In retrospect, she said, "I didn't make the time." But, she reminded us, during the era that she was raising her family, women were supposed to concentrate only on their children. Today 30 million copies of her books are in print.

A Barnard College graduate who majored in history,  Belva Plain enjoyed a wonderful marriage of more than 40 years to Irving Plain, an ophthalmologist. Widowed for more than 25 years, Ms. Plain continued to reside in New Jersey, where she and her husband had raised their family and which was still home to her nearby children and grandchildren until her death in October 2010.

Date of Birth:

October 9, 1915

Date of Death:

October 12, 2010

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

Short Hills, New Jersey


B.A., Barnard College

Read an Excerpt

The little house, during the days remaining, took on an atmosphere of gentle concern as houses do in which someone is ill or has died.  On the last day the husband and wife took Lore and Caroline to the train.

"I will keep in touch with people I know," the doctor promised, "and if there is any news of your parents, Caroline, you will get it at once.  Meanwhile, look forward, and God bless you both."

She would remember the Schmidts to her own last day.

The ship was crammed.  Not only was it almost the end of the tourist season, but there was also the looming war; permanent residents were racing back to safety, and refugees were racing out of danger.  This was farewell to Europe, the end of the past.

Although it made no sense to do so, Caroline immediately read the passenger list.  By some miracle, could her parents have managed to board?  Or could Walter?  And, as the shores of France slipped away and the ship moved through the Channel, she strained for the last look, as if somehow she might glimpse them standing on the shore.  Then she braced herself, left the railing, and went below.

At home they had had their separate rooms, so being cooped up here with Lore was a new experience.  It was uncomfortable for her to be sick in the cramped bathroom within hearing distance of another person.  The North Atlantic was rough; nevertheless, she spent hours on deck.  Tossed against the ship's rail, she groped her way to a chair, there to lie wrapped in blankets and gaze at the cold, tumultuous clouds, the heave and swell of the dull-green ocean.

"You look miserable," Lore said.  "Wouldn't you be better off in the room?"

"Father told me once that fresh air is good for seasickness.  Also, that one should look steadily at the horizon. "Yes, and eat a chicken sandwich.  I've heard that, too.  But I still think you should see the ship's doctor."

"Do you have to wonder what's wrong with me besides being seasick, Lore?  Maybe I have a few things on my mind, on my heart?"

"I'm only trying to help you, Caroline."

"I know.  I didn't mean to be impatient."

Lore sighed.  "I understand."

They kept to themselves.  On this crossing there was none of the gaiety that they had always read about.  Faces were thoughtful, and conversation in the lounges and the dining room was subdued.  People crowded around the ship's officers, asking for news.

"Do you feel as if you're at the theater?" Caroline asked one day.  "None of this seems possible.  Where are we going, Lore?  We don't even know where we're going."

"Well, we know we're going to bump into land.  Wherever the ocean ends, the ship has to stop."

The empty response was purposeful.  Lore was worried about her and did not want to show it.  A moment later, though, she did speak very earnestly.

"I talked to the ship's doctor about you this morning.  He can see you right after lunch."

"Me, and all the rest of the seasick passengers.  He must be bored with the sameness of it.  Anyway, you treat me as if I were a child again, and I wish you wouldn't."

"I'm very well aware that you're not a child.  You're a woman who needs help.  And I am a nurse, remember?  I'm not entirely ignorant.  You forget that."

"All right, I'll go."

"Good.  He's a nice young man—French, but he speaks English or German, whichever you want."

He was a pleasant young man, who began by telling her that he understood she was going through a very hard time.  "Your sister has explained it all."

She hoped he wasn't going to be too sympathetic.  People meant well, but often they did not understand that sympathy can make a person cry.

"So we won't have to go into all that," he said.

"No, since the main cause is seasickness."

"I'll be blunt.  Your sister thinks you may be pregnant."

"That's ridiculous, Doctor."

"Well, if it is . . . If you're sure it is completely impossible, there'll be no sense in going further."

Completely impossible . . . If you're a virgin, he meant.

She put her hand on her hot cheek, murmuring, "It's not impossible.  But I don't think—"

"Let me ask a few questions."

Aware that he sensed her dismay, she was grateful.  The ensuing dialogue, which was very short, proceeded in cut-off clauses whose meaning was, nevertheless, quite clear to both of them.

"—not always regular, so that I was not concerned—"

"—but nausea, generally in the morning, I believe?—""—true, but nerves, all the trouble, not sleeping much—"

"—might undo your blouse, if you don't mind—"

She minded terribly, but minded more that the wrong answer might send her into another fit of weeping.  But to be pregnant!  And she had asked Lore whether she felt as if she were watching the theater . . .

"I'm not a gynecologist," the young man said, carefully not looking at Caroline, "but by the appearance of your breasts, I think it's safe to conclude that you are well into the second month."

"My God," she whispered.

"You must have a proper examination when you get where you're going." Now he looked at her.  "Above all, keep it a secret.  You might have a lot of trouble at immigration if you don't.  I believe they have something in the States called 'moral turpitude. '"

Her fingers fumbled at the buttons on her blouse.  Her heart hammered.  Yes, it was like a small hammer held by a frantic hand.  She stood up, thanked the man, and stumbled out of the office.  Then she went to her suitcase—in which, for some stupid reason, she had packed a little photo of Walter—walked to the deck, and threw it overboard.

She had expected a display of some sort from Lore; shock, or dismay, or wringing of hands, but there was none.  Instead, she was calm and tried to console.

"I'm not going to ask you any questions.  There's nothing to ask, anyway.  It happened, and it has to be faced, that's all. You're not the first, Caroline, nor will you be the last.  We'll think of something.  First, let's get our feet on land."

They spent half the night talking while the ship creaked and sped westward.

"I'm stunned, Lore.  I hate him.  How quickly love can turn to hatred!"

Lore put a hand over hers.  "Listen to me.  He was no good.  Your parents were right.  Not that I want to make you feel guilty, but they only went along with it for your sake.  They didn't want to deny you any joy, but they had their doubts.  And if you recall, so did I."

Caroline tried to imagine herself walking into the library at home and telling her parents, who would be reading in the chairs beside the big window, that she was pregnant with Walter's child.  It was unimaginable.  She cried softly.

"I loved him so, Lore."

"Of course you did.  But you'll get through.  Remember.  You're not alone."

She looked into the good, homely face.  "Thank God for you, Lore," she said.

They were two days away from the Statue of Liberty when the news came.  It was September 1, 1939.  Germany had invaded Poland, and the Second World War had begun.  If ever there had been a chance for Father and Mama, there was none now.  If ever it had been possible for Caroline to speak of "the end of the past," it was not possible anymore.  Her past was to stay with her for the next seven months, and for the rest of her life.

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