In a small town on the Baltic coast, in a community steeped in
maritime industries and local mores, a teenager falls in love with his
English professor. Christian looks older than his years, Stella younger
than hers. The summer they spend together is filled with boat rides
to Bird Island, secret walks on the beach, and furtive glances. The
emotions that blossom between Christian and Stella are aflame with
passion and innocence, and with an idealistic hope of a future. The
two lovers manage to keep their mutual attraction concealed, but
as the hot months comes to an end, their meetings become more
difficult to conceal.
Stella begins at the end, at Stella Petersen’s memorial service,
where Christian relives the memories he shared with his first love.
There is nothing salacious about their relationship, nor is it just a case
of a teenager’s crush on his teacher. Their affair changes both
Christian and Stella, allows them to expand their views, and pushes
them out of social and familial constraints. Theirs is a tender love
story of a time, and yet speaks to any time; it is actually through
death that their love is transformed.
The sparseness of Siegfried Lenz’s narrative is reminiscent of the
existential stringency of Ernest Hemingway. Only a master stylist of
his standing could compose such a story that is equally modest and
powerful, a work that leaves a lasting authentic impression, and that
strives to comply with W.H. Auden’s famous request, “Tell me the truth about love.”