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Plain, Belva

PLAIN, Belva

Born 9 October 1919, New York, New York

Daughter of Eleanor and Oscar Offenberg; married Irving Plain,1941, children: three

Belva Plain is known for writing bestselling historical romances, in particular a four-book family saga dealing with the lives of the descendants of immigrant Jews. She also writes novels set in modern times that deal with current issues such as date rape and corporate downsizing. Usually, Plain's plots emphasize family togetherness, "rags to riches" scenarios, the value of a happy, long-lasting marriage, and they always end on a positive note.

Plain resided on Park Avenue in New York City during her childhood. Although she wrote for school magazines and was once editor of the school newspaper, while majoring in history at Barnard College she was informed by a creative writing teacher that she had no feeling for words. Undaunted, Plain continued writing and submitted short stories to women's magazines right after college. All were published and usually concerned the theme of a married woman being tempted by but in the end rejecting forbidden love.

In 1941 Plain married Irving Plain, an ophthalmologist, and temporarily gave up her writing career to raise three children in the suburbs. She dreamed of writing a novel, preferably one that avoided common Jewish stereotypes. When her children became old enough to be curious about their ancestors, she toyed with the idea of writing about her grandmother, who had come to the U.S. from Europe all by herself at the age of sixteen. Eventually, when Plain had grandchildren of her own, familial generations took on even more importance, so she set out to write her first novel, Evergreen, published when she was fifty-nine.

Delacorte bought the novel for an $87,000 advance, and it quickly became a bestseller. Plain went on to a second bestseller, Random Winds (1980), set in her native state of New York with a doctor as the main character, which garnered her a $100,000 advance. Other books followed, usually at two-year intervals: Eden Burning (1982) was set in the Caribbean, while Crescent City (1984) concerns both Union and Confederate Jewish soldiers during the Civil War. Plain discovered while researching the novel that the Union erred in not providing chaplains for Jewish soldiers, while the Confederacy did not practice religious discrimination of this sort.

In 1985 Evergreen was selected to be filmed as a miniseries for network television. In 1986 Plain decided to continue the saga, this time focusing on the family history of the leading male character in The Golden Cup. Tapestry (1988) told of the grandchildren of the original female immigrant. Harvest (1990) completed the Werner family saga series.

Blessings (1989) was a departure for Plain, as she took the idea from today's news stories. Adoptees are now more likely to learn about their natural parents and seek them out. A woman who gave up a daughter for adoption many years before is confronted by her just before the former is to be married.

Other novels pertaining to modern controversies were written by Plain in the 1990s. Promises (1996) departed from the formula romance fiction she wrote for magazines in the 1940s, in which a woman is tempted by the possibility of an extramarital affair. Plain has a man, suffering from the effects of being downsized, be tempted by a woman from his past. Secrecy (1997) shows the interaction between a teenage girl who has been date raped, the boy who raped her, and their mothers.

Homecoming (1997) returned to Plain's predilection to portray families over several generations. A newly widowed woman devises a family reunion in which her children, deliberately estranged from each other, come together and resolve their differences after the lives of two children are threatened. Legacy of Silence (1998) returned to Plain's Jewish roots. Two women in 1939 Berlin flee after their parents have been captured and killed by Nazis. The plot involves their escape to Switzerland, then the United States, where they try to build new lives.

Plain carries out extensive historical research, including visiting each location in which her novels take place to check such matters as local newspapers, dress, architecture, and everyday utensils. Usually in the top 20 of hardcover bestseller lists, Plain's novels appeal to women of different backgrounds. Many have been published in large print, and her books have appeared in 14 languages in addition to English.

Other Works:

Treasures (1992). Whispers (1993). Daybreak (1994). The Carousel (1995).

Bibliography:

Reference works:

CANR (1990). SATA (1990). Twentieth Century Romance and Historical Writers (1994).

—ROSE SECREST

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