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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Damned Strong Love
by Lutz Van Dijk
Age Range: 14+
The word ‘damned’ in the title literally describes the consequences of the love between a teenage Polish boy and an Austrian/German soldier during the Second World War. Narrated by 16-year-old Stefan, it charts his life in Poland during the occupation together with his awakening sexuality. He meets Willi, an Austrian soldier and they embark on a passionate affair. In their secret hideout Stefan and Willi shut out the war until Willi’s unit is posted to the Russian Front.
Stefan is blindly confident in his secret relationship despite the overwhelming dangers. However, his artlessness proves his downfall when he sends Willi a letter which is intercepted and leads to their liaison being discovered. Stefan is arrested by the Gestapo, tortured and imprisoned. Finally he is tried and sentenced to a labour camp where he experiences a brutal three years only to be freed when the war ends. Stefan never hears from Willi again and his fate is never discovered.
Based on the true story of Stefan K this is an important account because it deals with a lesser known aspect of the war, the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. By assuming the first-person voice of Stefan, Lutz van Dijk is able to deliver the story in a matter-of-fact way that engages the reader. Stefan describes the bigotry and violence he experiences, but is also candid about his feelings for Willi. An afterword by Stefan K, written in 1994, has been included which is profoundly moving. Even after the passing of so many years he still doesn't know whether Willi survived.
Damned Fine Love was awarded the Mildred L. Bachelder Honor in 1996.