Crescent City: A Novel

Crescent City: A Novel

by Belva Plain

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“Well written, fascinating, rich in plot and characters . . . presents [not only an interesting story, but] a portrait of the Jewish community in the 19th-century South.”—Newark Sunday Star-Ledger

She was the exquisite daughter of a wealthy  Jewish merchant. From a charmed girlhood in opulent New  Orleans, she would be swept into the cataclysm of  the Civil War. Forced to choose between her duties  as a Southern wife and mother and her love for a  forbidden man, a forbidden cause, Miriam Raphael is at the center of the whirlwind in a spellbinding  novel of divided loyalties and divided hearts.

“Seductive . . . moves along briskly through the kind of territory her avid readers most appreciate.”—Publishers Weekly

“As a romance, Crescent City can’t miss!”—The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307574497
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/16/2010
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 214,088
File size: 2 MB

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

Toward evening of a spring Saturday in the year 1835, a traveling berlin made a sudden appearance at the crest of a rise above the village of Gruenwald—midway between the Bavarian Alps and the city of Wurzburg in the province of Franconia. Its varnished yellow wheels were grayed with dust and the four massive horses who drew it were weary. It had evidently come a long way. Peasants, ending their day in the fields, straightened their rounded backs and gaped in dull wonderment, for visitors seldom came to the village and those who did traveled either on foot or in some lumbering farm wagon to trade. For a moment the berlin stood in bulky outline against the windy pink-streaked sky, halted on the brink of the descent as though someone within had wanted, before descending, to get a bird’s-eye view of the village below. Then, swaying and creaking on its leather straps, it disappeared from view beneath a cover of budding linden leafage. A minute or two later it emerged at the bottom of the hill, traveled down the short length of the single street, and turned into Jews’ Alley.
The watching peasants shook their heads. “Well, now, what do you make of that?”
Inside the berlin the single occupant was also shaking his head in wonder. He was a sturdy young man, still in his thirties. His rich dark hair encircled a good-humored face with inquisitive bright eyes and a soft loose mouth.
“Judengasse,” he murmured to himself almost in disbelief. “It hasn’t changed”—although why it should have changed or how it could have changed materially in the eight years since he had seen it last, he could not have said.
The same cramped, narrow houses which had been new three centuries before still stood on either side of the alley, tilting over it as old men quarreling lean toward one another. The last weak evening light winked on little window-eyes under the brows of a medieval second-story overhang and glossed the crisscrossed beams that seamed the ancient faces.
Between the butcher’s and the Inn of the Golden Bear, halfway down the alley—there, there in another moment the house would loom! And a wave of sickness swelled up in the young man’s throat. Again that dark doorway, the terrible cries, the vicious laughter—yes, there had been laughter—the running feet, and the blood of his young wife spilled on the steps—With a violent effort he steadied himself.
“America,” he said aloud, not knowing that he said it.
The Sabbath had come to a close, and the double doors of the old wooden synagogue were shut, the high steps deserted. When the berlin jolted to a halt in the yard of the Golden Bear, the last worshipers were just straggling home in their Sabbath finery. So a little crowd of them gathered quickly. What the young man saw as he leaned forward, readying himself to step down, was a pale blur of faces, collectively startled and hopeful of some novelty. They were like people coming to the circus or a play. Nothing, after all—not counting intermittent disasters—ever really happened in this place. Aware of himself as the focus of attention and having no wish at the moment to be recognized, for he was in a hurry, he lowered his head.
What they saw, then, was, first, a pair of leather boots extending from the vehicle’s open door; next, a walking stick with a silver knob; and finally, a velvet-collared broadcloth coat and a top hat of the same fawn color. A stranger sight, though, which diverted their attention, was the pair of coal-black human beings, who, descending from the box where they had been almost hidden by the coachman’s flounced cape, now revealed themselves as half-grown boys in bright blue breeches and waistcoats with gold lace cuffs.
The traveler, with his back to the onlookers, instructed the coachman, “Get a room for me for the night. And see that these two are well taken care of. They don’t speak the language.” He clapped the two black boys on the shoulders.
“Maxim! Chanute!” There followed some words in French to which the pair responded with cheerful nods. Then, looking neither right nor left, the traveler strode out of the yard and down the street to the home of Reuben Nathansohn. There he rapped on the door. When it was opened, he disappeared inside.
Astonished eyes rested on that door. “Now, who the devil would he be, coming to see old Nathansohn, do you suppose?”
“A foreigner, a Frenchman. You heard him.”
“Some dignitary?”
“Dignitary! Not in a hired coach!”
“A banker. A foreign banker, or a merchant maybe—”
“A Jew. Couldn’t you see? He was a Jew.”
“How could I see? A rich foreigner looks like a rich foreigner. You think he wears a sign. ‘I am a Jew’? or ‘I am not a Jew’? Foreigners don’t have to wear our badges.”
An old woman cried out with shrill scorn. Her gold earrings swung in her excitement. “You don’t know who that is? You didn’t recognize him? It’s Ferdinand Raphael.”
“Ferdinand the Frenchy!”
Voices crossed in midair, interrupting each other.
“He wasn’t French, he was Alsatian! He’d just come from Alsace when he married Hannah Nathansohn.”
“I remember when—”
“It can’t be! He went to America after the troubles.”
“Yes, and what’s to prevent him from coming back? He’s here to fetch his children.”
“Well, anyone might figure that out.”
“You think so? But high time if it’s true. The girl’s already eight.”
“Nine. Miriam is nine.”
The woman who had spoken first moved to the front. “Miriam is eight,” she said decidedly. “I was there when she was born. Didn’t I see her mother give birth and die all in a minute’s time?” Her voice rose, chanting. “Oh, a miracle it was! A miracle that the child could live at all—”
There came an instant’s respectful, grieving silence. Then a young woman spoke. “Wasn’t she killed when the students—”
“That was before your time here, Hilda. Oh, yes, when the fine young gentlemen went mad, tearing through the village on their great horses straight to the Judengasse .…” Now the voice became a dreamy monotone, as if the speaker were unwilling, and yet compelled, to repeat the horror. “Windows smashed, doors broken in, all of us running, running … The stones they had! So big, hurled in two hands. Oh, God! I was with Hannah, two steps ahead when they hit—”
“She was struck on the head, Nathansohn’s Hannah, young Raphael’s wife, right at the front door, at that door over there. We carried her inside.”
“The baby took her first breath as the mother took her last.”
Once more silence fell, the hideous recollection making a single entity of the little group.
Then someone said, “He left right after that. Left for America.”
“A man would want to get as far away as he could, wouldn’t he?”
“Well, now, it seems he must have made his American fortune and he’s come back for his children.”
“He’ll have his hands full with the boy, that’s sure.”
“Why so? He’s a fine, bright boy as far as I can see.”
“Oh, smart, yes, but stubborn as an ox. And not such a boy, either. He must be fifteen.”
So they waited in the alley, reluctant to miss any of this extraordinary happening. Full darkness came. The crowd began to dwindle. A few fetched lanterns and waited. But there was really nothing to be seen other than the rump of the cow feeding in the byre next to the Nathansohn house. After a while the last lingerers went home.

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Crescent City 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was extremely good, Belva Plain captures the difficulty of wanting something that you can't have. I picked up this book, and it was impossible to put down. This is a book that everyone should read
Anonymous 11 days ago
I loved this book. I wish it just kept going and going... Didnt want it to end.....
moonshineandrosefire on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
She was the stunning daughter of a wealthy Jewish merchant. From an idyllic childhood in opulent New Orleans, Miriam Raphael would be swept up into the turmoil of the Civil War. Forced to choose between her duties as a Southern wife and mother and her love for a forbidden man and a forbidden cause, Miriam is at the center of a whirlwind of divided loyalties and divided hearts.I really enjoyed this book. This was the first time that I have read this book, even though I love Belva Plain as an author. This is actually the first book that I've read that takes place during the American Civil War and give it a strong A+!
RoseCityReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Crescent City by Belva Plain has all the makings of a great historic saga: Jewish immigrants flee the poverty and persecution of 19th Century Europe for a life of luxury in the religiously tolerant boomtown of antebellum New Orleans; families are torn apart over the slavery issue and fight on opposite sides of the Civil War; there are loveless marriages, adulterous affairs, hoop skirts, burning plantations, and even blockage runners. Unfortunately, the book is still boring. It only skims the surface of the major events of the plot and the conflicts the characters face. It lacks the details of the really good historic epics, like John Jakes¿s Bicentennial Series. It lacks the smutty thrill of a good bodice ripper like that 1970s classic, The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. It lacks the emotional depth and pure entertainment of Gone with the Wind.Despite being over 500 pages long, Crescent City comes up short.
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