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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Minute's Silence

Siegfried Lenz

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To purchase Stella

Title: A Minute's Silence
Author: Siegfried Lenz
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Stella - US
A Minute's Silence - UK
Stella - Canada
Une minute de silence - France
Schweigeminute - Deutschland
  • German title: Schweigeminute
  • UK title: A Minute's Silence
  • US title: Stella
  • Translated by Anthea Bell

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Our Assessment:

B : a (tragic-)first-love sketch, hit and miss with its brushstrokes

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A 21/4/2008 Marcel Reich-Ranicki
FAZ . 21/6/2008 Heinrich Detering
The Independent A 13/11/2009 Boyd Tonkin
NZZ . 19/6/2008 Beatrix Langner
Die Welt . 12/5/2008 Ulrich Baron
Die Zeit . 8/5/2008 Ulrich Greiner

  Review Consensus:

  Almost all very impressed.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Sinnliche Prosa ist es: Man kann alles fühlen, sehen, hören und riechen. (...) Lenz hat Respekt vor den Figuren, die er geschaffen hat. Er gönnt ihnen den Anspruch auf Diskretion, er spart nichts aus, aber er schreibt vorsichtig, dezent und taktvoll. Er ist ein Erzähler mit guten Manieren. (...) Wir haben meinem Freund Siegfried Lenz für ein poetisches Buch zu danken. Vielleicht ist es sein schönstes." - Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Dass Lenz' novellistische Seefahrt die Scylla des Pathetischen ebenso sicher umsegelt wie die Charybdis der Sentimentalität, verdankt sich der Sparsamkeit seiner erzählerischen Mittel und dem weiten Horizont, in den hinein dieses Erzählen sich öffnet. (...) Meisterhaft ist sie in einem ganz handwerklichen Sinne. Und ebendeshalb erreicht sie so sicher jenen Punkt, an dem die stupende Präzision der pièce bien faite umschlagen kann in die Magie des Geschichtenerzählens." - Heinrich Detering, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "A Minute's Silence is a superbly crafted novella of first love, with a tenderly evocative sense of place, mood and era. As so often, we have Anthea Bell to thank for a flawless translation which captures a prose that shifts in nuance as often as the North Sea winds and currents that run through the story. (...) Suggestively rich in overtones and undercurrents, Lenz's beautiful miniature also stands alone as a masterclass in "the grammar of farewell"." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "Schweigeminute ist ein bezaubernd leichter Text über die Trauer und zugleich ein Versuch über die Sprache des Trauerns. Diese Sprache ist zeitlos; sie sucht ihre Worte nicht im «empfohlenen oder angeordneten Schweigen» öffentlicher Gedenkrituale, sondern in der luziden Sinnlichkeit des Erinnerns, die den Menschen – Stella – als Teil der Landschaft wieder erschafft, in die er gestellt war und mit der er nach seinem Tod auf geheimnisvolle Weise wieder verschmilzt." - Beatrix Langner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Vieles ist irritierend in dieser Novelle (.....) Liest man die Lenzsche Novelle also in diesem Sinne, als die nachgetragene Fantasie einer unerfüllten Liebe, dann erscheinen manche Stolpersteine nicht als Mängel, sondern als Merkmale eines Erzählens, das versucht, Erinnern und Begehren zu einer glaubwürdigen, konsistenten Geschichte zu verbinden." - Ulrich Baron, Die Welt

  • "Lenz erzählt von der Erfahrung, dass alle Liebe Dauer will, dass aber diese Dauer immerzu bedroht ist, am schlimmsten von Endlichkeit und Tod. Das erzählen zu können bedarf der Meisterschaft, und Lenz ist hier, anders als in seinen vor Formulierungslust überquellenden Romanen, sehr lakonisch, ein Trauerton grundiert die Erzählung, obwohl sie auf der Oberfläche ganz leicht und frei daherfließt und natürlich bestimmt ist von jener realitätsfrohen Genauigkeit, die Lenz so liebt." - Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Minute's Silence (published in the US as Stella) begins with a school choir intoning "Here we sit down in tears and grief". Yes, this isn't a love story with a happy ending. The narrator, eighteen-year-old Christian, drifts back and forth in his account between the memorial service being held for his teacher, Stella Petersen, and his recollections of his own relationship with her -- which, it is almost immediately clear, was a very meaningful one for him.
       It's not a bad approach, and at its most effective when tossing in clues at the memorial service as to what happened, before Christian has gotten around to explaining: how Stella died, for example (as one speaker at the service suggestively asks: "Was there no other way out for you ?" long before we learn how Stella died). And the scenes from the memorial and after include some very effective ones: Christian taking the photograph of Stella that is on display, and then being found out; Christian turning down the offer to speak at the event.
       English teacher Stella is very chummy with the kids, and especially with Christian. Christian falls hard for her, and dreams of a life together with her; she doesn't exactly string him along, but certainly keeps him guessing. Her death conveniently allows for a finality that doesn't entirely shatter Christian's romantic illusions but nevertheless leads to what was always the inevitable result: they can not be together.
       Set on Germany's Baltic coast, Lenz does well in how he presents the local tied-to-the-sea community there. Christian's father owns a battered barge that transfers boulders and stones, to reinforce the local breakwater and the pier, for example. It's work that seems to promise solidity and certainty -- a fisherman approvingly notes: "Rocks stay put, you can always rely on rocks" -- but from the beginning it's also made clear that there's considerable danger here, too -- not least for Christian, who dives in after the newly laid stones to make sure that they are in the proper position. Building a wall -- the breakwater -- is also no guarantee of keeping the sea (or disaster ...) at bay. (Yes, this novel drips (and drips and drips) with symbolism; no surprise, then, that the assigned school reading in Ms.Petersen's class is Animal Farm (and that's definitely not for its political content).)
       Much of the action takes place on the open water, from Christian's family business of rock-hauling to a regatta that is held, and it's striking how insidious the sea proves to be -- and how much everyone has to rely on others to be helped or saved. Even old hand Frederik, who works for Christian's father, has to be pulled from the waters on one occasion when his inflatable overturns (the motor still running, the craft running circles around him, putting him in danger of being forced under: "Sometimes it seemed like the boat was deliberately hunting him down"), while Stella is involved in helping one of the regatta racers that capsized.
       "Love, Christian, is a warm wave bearing us up", Stella writes to Christian, but there are also lots of cold, dangerous, and very murky depths here. Rocks, too, against which love can easily founder and illusions be shattered .....
       Lenz captures the muddle and confusion of first almost-adult passion here quite well, though by contemporary standards Christian comes across as a fairly naïve eighteen-year-old. Still, his affair, and his thoughts (and jealousies) -- and how Stella remains an elusive enigma -- for the most part seem fairly plausible. But Lenz's brushtsrokes -- the various episodes -- don't always sit well side by side. Some things are captured very well -- including the rock-work Christian and his father do, or the relationship between Christian and the young girl next door, who has a childish crush on him -- but the spare descriptions, while reflecting Christian's inability to see the whole and larger pictures, ultimately leave the book feeling too much like a sketch rather than a fully-realized picture. There's also Stella's behavior, which is unavoidably unsettling in the contemporary atmosphere, as she is entirely too forward with her students.
       Quite well if too obviously crafted -- every detail is imbued with meaning -- A Minute's Silence impresses technically, but, surprisingly, it isn't all that moving.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 July 2010

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A Minute's Silence (Stella): Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       German author Siegfried Lenz was born in 1926.

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© 2010 the complete review

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