cover image Only the Beautiful

Only the Beautiful

Susan Meissner. Berkley, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-33283-2

Meissner (The Last Year of the War) unfurls an emotionally rich narrative involving a young woman in 1930s California and a nanny in WWII Austria. Rosie Maras is orphaned at 16 when her parents and younger brother die in car accident. Her family had been living and working on a California vineyard owned by Truman and Celine Calvert, who become her temporary guardians. Celine is cold and distant, while Truman takes advantage of Rosie’s vulnerability, seducing her and getting her pregnant. Celine discovers the pregnancy and banishes her to a state infirmary, where she faces forced sterilization. Meanwhile, in Vienna, Truman’s sister Helen, who met Rosie, cares for a disabled child named Brigitta Maier. When Brigitta is taken from her home by the German government for their T4 euthanasia program, the Maiers and Helen are devastated. After the war, Helen returns to California and a widowed Celine bitterly reveals Truman’s infidelity, prompting Helen to set out to find Rosie and her niece, the only family she has left. Meissner seamlessly unites the two narratives, drawing striking parallels between Germany’s forced euthanasia of disabled people and eugenics in the U.S. Readers will be riveted. Agent: Elisabeth Weed, Book Group. (Apr.)