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The Inheritance of Beauty
by Nicole Seitz

Published: 2011-01-31
Paperback : 320 pages
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Beauty, like truth, is enduring. But only one can set you free.

MAGGIE BLACK CAME OF AGE in the lush, fragrant lowcountry of South Carolina—spending her days with her beloved brother and the boy she would grow up to marry. But when a stranger arrived one summer, Maggie couldn’t ...

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Beauty, like truth, is enduring. But only one can set you free.

MAGGIE BLACK CAME OF AGE in the lush, fragrant lowcountry of South Carolina—spending her days with her beloved brother and the boy she would grow up to marry. But when a stranger arrived one summer, Maggie couldn’t imagine the evil he would bring with him. And though she escaped with her life, the ramifications of that fateful summer would alter all of their lives forever.

Now, some eighty years later, Maggie and her husband George are spending their remaining days in a nursing home, helpless as age slowly robs Maggie of her ability to communicate. When a mysterious package arrives, followed closely by a stranger whose identity haunts them, Maggie and George are hemmed in by a history they’d rather forget.

As the truth reveals itself, George knows he must face the past and its lifetime of repercussions. It’s the only way to free himself and his precious wife—if it’s not too late.

The Inheritance of Beauty is a rich and enchanting story about age and beauty and the ability of true beauty to transcend one's life.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Her Levy, 1929
I am seven years old, holding the magician’s wand, cool and
silver in my hands. My breath is hot against the canvas bust of
Mama’s dressmaker’s dummy. I’m inside of it, hiding.
There is green gingham wrapped around me, around
the dummy. My brother, Ash, and I play here sometimes,
hide-and-seek. I can feel the metal skirt hoop and smell the
musty canvas. I can hear her screaming, begging him to leave
us be. There is a thump and a cry at the same time.
Then silence, nothing but the sound of my own breathing.
I don’t know who’s still standing, but I can feel trouble—
it fills the room. Someone’s looking my way. Can he hear me
breathing? Can he see my feet? Does he know I’m here? I pull my toes in
and try hard not to exhale.
I close my eyes. Go away, go away. Footsteps move across the room, and I hear shuffling around. They come closer,
painfully slow. I’m about to lose my breath. I’m seeing stars.
My knees are shaking.
It’s dark. I’m afraid in the dark.
I hear a sound, a short, quick scratch.
Then another, and another.
Finally, there’s a whoosh and the footsteps are running
away. I wait to be sure they’re gone. I wait, I wait, but I’m getting
hot. I might pass out. I open my eyes and look down at
my bare feet. Orange fire is on the hem of the green gingham
dress. There’s fire, and all I can think is I’ve got to get out of
here. I stand up straight and hit my head on the metal. The
dummy falls over with me in it.
I wake up, looking into my brother’s eyes with the blue sky
and white smoke above us. He’s saying to me, whimpering,
“Please, Maggie, talk to me!”
I try but the words won’t come.
t Him The fire dances, a great orange jack-o’-lantern high above the
trees, well into the night. Every man in town is here, buckets
of water in hand, sweat on their brows. The heat is nothing
I’ve ever felt and nothing I ever hope to feel again.
The watering hole must be empty by now. I think of the
fish. I think if they’re frying on the burning embers of the
house. I think there might not be any more fish to catch and
worry how to restock Togoodoo Creek. Funny what the mind goes to at a time like this. I should be thinking about more
serious matters. About the stranger and if he’s dead in that
fire. About her, and if she’ll survive. I should be thinking
these things, but my mind is not able to work it out. Instead,
I will think about fish. There are enough worms to catch a
whole mess of them, but now they’re burning in a heap that
was once a home. A happy home.
The fish swim up to the night sky in swirls of orange-white
smoke, and I wish I could climb the swirls like Jack up the
beanstalk, up and away from here. I have never seen a fire this
big. Fires should not get this big. Maybe it’ll swallow Levy.
I wish I could go back to before. Please, God, let me go back to
before I ever met him. Before the train came to town. Let the fire burn up all the
time and seconds and let’s just go back to before I ever heard her cry. I pray it . . .
I pray it . . . I pray it . . . Amen.
I open my eyes but the fire rages. Will she forgive me?
Will she ever forget?
Can I?
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. Magnolia’s thoughts tend to go back to her childhood, yet George only visits his in dreams. Why? Do you know an elderly person who now seems to live in the past, or conversely, one who never speaks of it?
2. Magnolia says, “Magic can either come from one of two places, up above or down below.” Discuss the role of “magic” in this book. What does Maggie make with her hands? Does this change by the end of the book? If so, why?
3. Beauty plays a major role in this novel. Who is or was beautiful? Discuss the difference between inner beauty and outward beauty in these characters. What about the title The Inheritance of Beauty? Whose inheritance is it? What comes along with that inheritance, blessing or curse?
4. Miss Annie says, “Some families are cursed, it’s logical, biblical, but it only takes one to break it. One folk who just won’t have it no more.” Have you ever felt you were carrying the burden that comes from a troubled family lineage or from unresolved issues?
5. Does race play a significant role in The Inheritance of Beauty? Why or why not?
6. Discuss George and Maggie’s love relationship with regards to age and time. Do you think of their love as being perfected at some point in time or evolving and multifaceted as they age? Do you know a relationship like theirs? Would you want a love relationship like this one?
7. Why did Ash leave Levy? Why did he stay away? Were his reasons valid? Were they noble?
8. No one in this novel is perfect—they each have a mixture of good and bad in them and decisions they’ve suffered over. Discuss the themes of guilt, grief and redemption in this novel.
9. In writing this book, the author states that she set out to discover why some people live so long with seemingly little or no quality of life. Do you think she discovered some answers? Did you?
10. Joe’s character seems to come in and out of George’s, Maggie’s, and Ash’s lives like a moth to light. How have they each shaped each other’s experience? Would their lives have been the same had they not come together? What about if they’d not gone their own separate ways?
11. Why do you think these children must come together again at the end of life? Is this realistic? Do you believe in the supernatural guiding the natural world? Do you believe in miracles?
12. Who is the true hero or heroine in this book? Why?
13. Discuss Harmony House. Is this a place you would want to live? Is Miss Annie someone you would want in your life? In the end of the book, how has Miss Annie’s life changed, if at all?
14. Discuss the symbolic role of the Harmony House cat in The Inheritance of Beauty.
15. Who set the fire in Levy? Why does this matter?
16. Do you have a special, sacred place from your childhood like Togoodoo Creek? Have you ever been back? If so, how had it—or you—changed? Can one ever really go back home?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from author Nicole Sietz:

The Inheritance of Beauty is a story about enduring love. George and Maggie are childhood sweethearts, now living out their remaining years at Harmony House in Charleston, SC. George can hardly remember, and Maggie can no longer communicate. When an anonymous package arrives and a familiar stranger moves in down the hall, George realizes he must revisit his difficult past in order to set them all free.

I was inspired to write this story after visiting my grandmother just before she passed away at age 91. She was still beautiful but could not open her eyes or speak. I lay on her lap and told her I loved her, thanked her for everything she'd done over the years. After 20 minutes she leaned forward, eyes still closed, and rubbed her forehead on mine. I knew in that moment she was still in there, still loving me.

In writing The Inheritance of Beauty, I dared to ask the question: Why do some people live to be so old with little to no quality of life? Is there a purpose in that? By the end of this book, I had found my answers. My sincere hope is that my readers will too.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "The Inheritance of Beauty"by jenniferg (see profile) 08/01/11

This book is interesting; it goes back and forth between the past and present, as well as between characters. The story itself is good, but I was a little disappointed by the ending.

  "Events that change the course of lives forever"by kristinbluedog (see profile) 08/30/12

This is an interesting story about how events can change the course of our lives forever and through tragedy happiness can still survive. It is tender and touching; told from the perspective of an elderly... (read more)

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