There's something special about Rose. She sees colors when others only hear sounds. It's a beautiful yet alarming talent, setting her apart from others, and her protective parents make her promise not to reveal it to others.
At 16, as World War II looms in Europe, she is orphaned in an accident and is taken in by her father's employers, owners of a classy vineyard where the family had lived and worked all of Rose's life.
The Calverts are civil to her, but she's more of a maid than a household member. Loneliness envelops her and, in her solitude, she lets bits and pieces of her secret gift slip to those few people around her.
One night, Rose has an unwanted encounter that leaves her pregnant. The Calverts send her away to a hospital where such people and such matters are handled. Rose gives birth, her baby is whisked away for adoption and she is made to undergo a second procedure — a forced sterilization, all too common in the late '30s-'50s among people who were viewed as "different." Although it takes place in the previous century, the story has tragic resemblance to genetic "cleansing" still taking place around the world.
Meissner weaves horrendous history with fascinating characters as the pieces of the puzzle that is Rose finally fall together. It's a touching story, not to be missed.
Only the Beautiful
By: Susan Meissner.
Publisher: Berkley, 400 pages, $28.