LEGACY OF SILENCE
Belva Plain


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Dell April 1999 (paperback edition)
Reviewed by Sissy Jacobson

Historical

Berlin, 1938. Eighteen-year-old Caroline Hartzinger and her family are quietly making plans to flee Germany. Caroline, whose mother is Jewish, meets and falls in love with Walter Litzhauser, the son of an important member of the Nazi Party. Caroline and her "adopted" sister Lore, twelve years Caroline's senior, are sent to Switzerland to wait in safety. When the Swiss borders begin to close to non-residents, Caroline and Lore sail for America, never again to hear from their parents or Walter, who planned to sail with them.

Arriving in America, Caroline learns she is pregnant. She meets and marries Joel Hirsch, another immigrant who fled the Nazi regime. Caroline, Joel, Lore, and newborn Eve form a family and begin to make their way upward in the world. When Eve is sixteen, she accidentally learns the truth about her parentage, and the family teeters on the edge of destruction.

Belva Plain is a wonderful storyteller who can mine the emotional depths of her characters, and introduce to us people so real they could be our neighbors. She presents her characters with all of their flaws and imperfections as well as their good points. Caroline is the spoiled daughter of a wealthy, upper-class family. Lore, "adopted" at age twelve, suffers from poor bone development and bad teeth caused by malnutrition in her early years. Caroline is beautiful, Lore is not. Lore is a nurse; Caroline has no earning capabilities. Joel, who has none of the educational or cultural advantages that Caroline and Lore have, is determined to learn and become successful.

LEGACY OF SILENCE begins in 1938 and follows the family into the late 1960's. Belva Plain segues smoothly from one paragraph to the next, moving forward months or even years, but the reader is never lost or confused. We love Joel for his goodness and integrity, and watch as his hard work pays off. Caroline grows from a cold, selfish, self-centered woman to become the wife Joel has longed for. When Eve is sixteen, Caroline has Joel's child, a daughter named Jane. Lore plays the role of sister, aunt, grandmother, sister-in-law, adviser, and comforter. Part one of LEGACY is Caroline's story, part two, Eve's, and part three is Jane's. However, the threads of each generation weave through from beginning to end.

LEGACY OF SILENCE is the story of a family who faces fear, loss, acceptance, rejection, love, and betrayal, yet goes on to live lives that are blessed. They begin at the top of the social strata, only to plunge to the depths of poverty. But time and again, they pick themselves up and start all over. There's happiness and joy, sadness and despair, but they survive, each generation stronger than the one before.

LEGACY OF SILENCE will definitely make my list of best reads of 2004.

 

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