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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Only The Beautiful

Narrators: Xe Sands, Jorjeana Marie

Penguin Audio

ISBN: 978-0593332832

Publisher: Berkley

Publication Date: 04/18/2022

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars

A heartrending story about a young mother’s fight to keep her daughter, and the winds of fortune that tear them apart by the USA Today bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things and The Last Year of the War.

California, 1938—When she loses her parents in an accident, sixteen-year-old Rosanne is taken in by the owners of the vineyard where she has lived her whole life as the vinedresser’s daughter.

She moves into Celine and Truman Calvert’s spacious house with a secret, however—Rosie sees colors when she hears sound. She promised her mother she’d never reveal her little-understood ability to anyone, but the weight of her isolation and grief prove too much for her. Driven by her loneliness she not only breaks the vow to her mother, but in a desperate moment lets down her guard and ends up pregnant.

Banished by the Calverts, Rosanne believes she is bound for a home for unwed mothers, and having lost her family she treasures her pregnancy as the chance for a future one. But she soon finds out she is not going to a home of any kind, but to a place far worse than anything she could have imagined.

Austria, 1947—After witnessing firsthand Adolf Hitler’s brutal pursuit of hereditary purity—especially with regard to “different children”—Helen Calvert, Truman's sister, is ready to return to America for good. But when she arrives at her brother’s peaceful vineyard after decades working abroad, she is shocked to learn what really happened nine years earlier to the vinedresser’s daughter, a girl whom Helen had long ago befriended. In her determination to find Rosanne, Helen discovers that while the war had been won in Europe, there are still terrifying battles to be fought at home.

My Review

Master storyteller Susan Meissner's latest, ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL, is a meticulously researched, emotional, and heart-rendering story of a young, tenacious mother's fight to keep her daughter and another trying to find her.

Told with dual timelines, California, 1938 and Austria, 1947, written from two POVs: Rosie and Helen.

California 1938: 16 yr old Rosanne Maras is taken in by the owners of a vineyard, Celine and Truman Calvert, in Sonoma County, California. They are appointed legal guardians after her parents and brother die in a car accident. Rosie has lived her whole life as the vinedresser's daughter. They employ her as a maid.

Rosanne has a secret. She sees colors when she hears sounds. She had promised her mother she would not reveal her secret, but she is weighed down by grief and loneliness and lets down her guard.

Celine is cold, distant, and vindictive. Truman takes advantage of Rosie and seduces her. Unfortunately, she finds herself pregnant. She treasures this, but others do not.

Abandoned by the Calverts, she thinks she is going to a home for unwed mothers, but unfortunately, it is not and the worst imaginable. Instead, she is taken to a psychiatric hospital for forced sterilization sent by Celine. It is horrifying, with no way to defend oneself.

Due to Rosie's audio stimulation to different colors/with sound— "synesthesia," they labeled her abnormality as a burden to society—a mental illness.

Austria, 1947—Helen Calvert, Truman's sister, wants to return to California after spending 40 years in Europe working as a nanny to escape the rein of the cruelty of Adolf Hitler—the Nazis’ quest for racial purity.

While in Vienna, Truman’s sister Helen cares for a disabled child named Brigitta Maiers. When Brigitta is taken from her home by the German government for their T4 euthanasia program, the Maiers and Helen are devastated.

Upon arrival at her brother's vineyard —(he has now passed) and her sister-in-law is not thrilled to have Helen, mainly after she inquires about Rosie.

Helen is shocked to learn what happened to the vinedresser's daughter nine years earlier, a girl she had befriended. When Helen learns about Rosie, she sets out to find her child.

Could the evil practices she had witnessed in Europe by the Nazis be happening in the States?

Helen slowly unravels what happened to Rosie once she left the vineyard and is shocked. She is not different; she has synesthesia. Helen thought the Germans were the only ones obsessed with eugenics; however, she soon learns Americans are just as bad.

A gripping, heartbreaking story regarding dark topics of our history, from eugenics and involuntary euthanasia to forced sterilization, injustices, and more.

Meissner expertly blends the two narratives and timelines seamlessly with parallels between Germany and its disabled and the eugenics in the US. Check out the Author's Note, with a wealth of information.

I enjoyed how the story connected the two strong, courageous young women and its storylines. While this is a difficult read, it is a critical one and a part of history that should not be forgotten. The past can shape your future, strengthen you, and teach wise lessons.

What a stunning cover and a fitting title. ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL is a must-read for richly drawn characters, historical fiction fans, and Meissner fans.

Read this if you liked…

~Take My Hand

~The House of Eve

~The Nightingale

~Necessary Lies

~The Last Carolina Girl

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

My Rating: 4.5 rounded to 5 Stars

Pub Date: April 18, 2023

Praise for Only the Beautiful

"Meissner delivers a nuanced and heartbreaking tale; expect to read through tear-filled eyes as the story concludes."

–Library Journal

"Meissner unfurls an emotionally rich narrative… Readers will be riveted.”

–Publishers Weekly

"Richly drawn characters and heartbreaking, historically accurate situations combine to make a powerful reading experience."

–Booklist American Library Association

Praise for the novels of Susan Meissner

"A somber, gripping tale illuminated with hope."

–Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network

"A story of one family's heartbreak and hope. Strong [and] resilient, Meissner's characters step off the page and into history."

–Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

"With stunning prose and keen detail, Meissner has deftly created a heady mix of love, politics, and survival--a family saga, coming-of-age tale, and riveting historical fiction all in one. A must-read!"

–Pam Jenoff, author of The Orphan's Tale

About the Author

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than three-quarters of a million books in readers' hands and translations in eighteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Nature of Fragile Things, which earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly; The Last Year of the War, named to Real Simple magazine’s list of best books for 2019; As Bright as Heaven, which earned a starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014.

She attended Point Loma Nazarene University in California and makes her home with her husband and yellow Lab in the Pacific Northwest. WEBSITE



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