cover image Damned Strong Love, a True Story

Damned Strong Love, a True Story

Lutz Van Dijk, Lutz Van Dijk. Henry Holt & Company, $15.95 (138pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-3770-8

The word ``damned'' in this novel's title is not just an attention-grabbing expletive-it quite literally describes the consequences of the love between a teenaged Pole and a Nazi soldier during WWII. Narrator Stephan is 16 when he realizes he is gay; only months later, he meets an Austrian soldier named Willi: ``Before my eyes I saw only him, this tender, handsome man-without his uniform, without the war and all of world history. Only him.'' Willi, equally enamored, and Stephan shut out the war (and the Nazi persecution of homosexuals) and embark on a passionate affair until Willi's unit is sent to Russia. Despite the sophisticated themes, the most striking quality of this narrative is its unblemished innocence: Stephan's easy acceptance of his sexuality makes it virtually impossible for the reader to reject it; and his susceptibility to a single individual rather than to the inimical German regime raises valuable if painful questions. Stephan's artlessness proves his downfall: he sends Willi a letter (``I can't sleep, I think only of you''), which leads to Stephan's arrest and a brutal three-year imprisonment (he is freed only when the war ends). Willi's fate, ominously, is never discovered. German writer van Dijk, identifying his story as a true one, appends an afterword by the real-life Stephan. Wrenching-and profoundly illuminating. Ages 14-up. (May) q