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Susan Meissner | The Lives of Two Women Converge at the Height of the Eugenics Movement

Only The Beautiful
Susan Meissner




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March 2024
On Sale: March 5, 2024
Featuring: Helen Calvert; Celine and Truman Calvert; Rosanne
400 pages
ISBN: 0593332849
EAN: 9780593332849
Kindle: B0B7LR66DF
Trade Paperback / e-Book (reprint)
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Also by Susan Meissner:
Only The Beautiful, March 2024
Only the Beautiful, April 2023
When We Had Wings, October 2022
The Nature of Fragile Things, January 2022


1--What is the title of your latest release?


2--What’s the “elevator pitch” for your new book?

The lives of two women—a teenaged orphan with a rare sensory anomaly and an American expat working as a nanny to a disabled child in Nazi-occupied Vienna—converge at the height of the eugenics movement.

3--How did you decide where your book was going to take place?

One of the primary locations, idyllic wine country in northern California in the late 1930s, was a natural choice; not just because California is my home state but because a staggering number of state-authorized sterilizations—without a person’s knowledge or consent—took place at a certain institution in Sonoma County. California led the way, sadly, with more forced sterilizations during the eugenics movement than any other state in the US. The second location, Vienna, Austria, was also an apropos setting as once Austria had been annexed to Germany at the beginning of World War 2, everything that was happening in Germany was now happening in Austria, including the “euthanizing” of disabled children—one of the first acts of the Third Reich in its unimaginably cruel scheme to create a master race.

4--Would you hang out with your protagonist in real life?

Absolutely. Granted I would have less in common with a teenage girl at this stage in my life and I could not fully identify with what it means to have synesthesia, but Roseanne is a tender-hearted person who has the soul of a caregiver. She is the kind of person any of us would want to hang out with. Helen, the nanny, is made-up of so many parts of me and the way I process life and the hard edges of it that she and I already are friends, I think. If that makes any sense!

5--What are three words that describe your protagonist?

There are three words that describe both Roseanne and Helen: Nurturing. Devoted. Courageous.

6--What’s something you learned while writing this book?

It is clearer to me after writing this book that while the eugenics movement is a thing of the past, eugenic ideology is not. If we aren’t careful, we—collective humanity, I mean—tend to set up structures to gauge another person’s worth based on our own idea of what is perfect and beautiful. It’s what makes prejudicial thinking sadly timeless. Despite having seen where eugenic thinking can take us if left unfettered (you don't have to look any further than Adolf Hitler to view eugenics at its worst), we still too easily assess other people’s value against our own idea of excellence. That never turns out well, for anyone. I love this quote by Mother Teresa, which I often close out my book talk about this novel. She said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

7--Do you edit as you draft or wait until you are totally done?

I edit as I go. I can’t imagine writing any other way!

8--What’s your favorite foodie indulgence?

Bread. Always bread. Especially sourdough anything. I love it too much.

9--Describe your writing space/office!

My office looks out onto pine and cedar and birch trees, and it is made acoustically pleasant by a whole lot of books and their wonderful sound-absorbing pages.

10--Who is an author you admire?

So many! I can’t answer this without naming three: Anthony Doerr (so original), Ann Patchett (such a gifted wordsmith) and Kate Morton (a master of historical settings and multiple timelines).

11--Is there a book that changed your life?

I would be less than honest if I did not answer this with the Bible. My faith is very important to me and bleeds out of me in its own way into any book I write. It’s within the pages of the bible where I found and then began to understand my faith.

12--Tell us about when you got “the call.” (when you found out your book was going to be published)/Or, for indie authors, when you decided to self-publish.

It was two decades ago, in September of 2003, that I was offered my first publishing contract. I had been dreaming of writing a novel and seeing it on bookstore shelves since I was a teenager. On that day I was 43, so it seemed like it was a long time coming. In retrospect, I know I was very fortunate to have only actively pursued a publisher for a year. But the joy and relief was just as sweet.

13--What’s your favorite genre to read?

I love historical fiction, reading it and writing it!

14--What’s your favorite movie?

For a very long time this answer as been Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail.” I think it’s still true.

15--What is your favorite season?

Autumn, hands down.

16--How do you like to celebrate your birthday?

With good food and the sweet company of the people I love.

17--What’s a recent tv show/movie/book/podcast you highly recommend?

One of my favorite reads in the last few weeks is North Woods by Daniel Mason. It is completely original, stitched together masterfully, and highly sensorial. I would read it again.

18--What’s your favorite type of cuisine?

Italian, all day long.

ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL by Susan Meissner

Only The Beautiful

A heartrending story about a young mother’s fight to keep her daughter, and the terrible injustice that tears 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. But she soon finds out she is not going to a home of any kind, but to a place that seeks to forcibly take her baby – and the chance for any future babies – from her.

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 a shocking American eugenics program—and learns that that while the war had been won in Europe, there are still terrifying battles to be fought at home.


Women's Fiction Historical [Berkley, On Sale: March 5, 2024, Trade Paperback / e-Book (reprint), ISBN: 9780593332849 / eISBN: 9780593332856]

Buy ONLY THE BEAUTIFULAmazon.com | Kindle | BN.com | Apple Books | Kobo | Google Play | Powell's Books | Books-A-Million | Indie BookShops | Ripped Bodice | Walmart.com | Target.com | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR

About Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author with more than half a million books in print in 15 languages and a writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Last Year of the War (a LibraryReads top pick for March 2019), As Bright As Heaven, and Secrets of a Charmed Life, a Goodreads Best Historical Fiction finalist for 2015. She is also RITA finalist and Christy Award winner. When she's not working on a novel, she volunteers for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

Men of Lancaster County





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