Hauntingly Beautiful

4.5 stars rounded up to 5.

Only the Beautiful is a poignant historical novel set during the 1930s and 1940s that masterfully intertwines the lives of two remarkable women. The story begins in 1938 with sixteen-year-old Rosanne, whose life is shattered by the tragic deaths of her parents and brother in a car accident. Taken in by the owners of the vineyard where she has lived her entire life, Rosanne soon uncovers a dark secret about her new guardians.

The narrative then shifts to 1947 Austria, where Helen Calvert witnesses Adolf Hitler’s ruthless pursuit of racial purity. Upon returning to her brother’s vineyard in California, Helen unravels the mystery of what really happened to Rosanne, the vinedresser’s pregnant daughter, nine years earlier. Determined to uncover the truth, Helen embarks on a courageous journey to find her.

Meissner’s ability to weave historical events into a seamless narrative that shines throughout the book. Her evocative writing vividly brings to life the Calvert estate, the surrounding California landscape, and the era’s complex social dynamics. The author handles the themes of identity, prejudice, and the fight for justice with sensitivity and insight, which makes the book engaging and thought-provoking.

The richly drawn characters and historically accurate situations create a powerful reading experience. Though the story is difficult to read, Rosie and Helen’s perseverance in the face of evil is profoundly moving. The book probes into the horrifying aspects of the eugenics movement in the US, exposing concepts that are both fascinating and deeply unsettling.

Meissner’s ability to captivate readers and transport them to another time and place is unparalleled. This latest novel explores emotionally upsetting topics with grace and depth, making it a powerful and heartbreaking read. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a comp of this title. The opinions are my own.

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