Widow Rosalie von Tummler and her two children Anna and Eduard live in Dusseldorf, Germany after World War II. Her face and figure make her look years younger than her middle age, with only her graying hair betraying her. Herr von Tummler had been a rake and a scoundrel with women before he passed away. Anna, eighteen-years old, has a clubfoot and is an extremely bright, aspiring artist. Eduard, age six, is tutored in English by a 24-year old American veteran named Ken Keaton. Anna has never been romantically involved and when a potential suitor leaves town it seems her best opportunity for love has passed her by. As springtime unfolds Rosalie is attracted to the youthful Ken. Torn with guilt by her lusty desire for the youth and shamed by the jealousy she feels toward other women who are close to Ken, she acts strangely around the youthful tutor. At social events in town, sometimes she is coy and demure in his company, other times moody, jubilant, or avoids him altogether.
It pains her daughter Anna to see the flirtations between the two. Eventually, young Eduard is aware of his mother's amorous feelings for the American. He offers to give up the tutor to save his mother the costly expense, but she dismisses his offer saying he will need the tutoring to excel in his future university studies. Frequently hot and bothered with sensual dreams of Ken, Rosalie confides the poorly disguised secret with her daughter. Anna is aghast and suggests running the American out of town or moving the von Tummler family to avoid a scandal that would torment young Eduard. The two women voice their differing philosophies on love and life to one another, Anna being conservative to the point of Victorian and prudish, while Rosalie is open minded and very progressive for the era. Rosalie at her stage in life is amazed her womanhood has been rejuvenated in the form of renewed menstruation. She shares this miraculous fact with Anna.
Rosalie suggests a family outing along with Ken to nearby Holterhof castle by boat to view the historical sights and feed the black swans. The two children and two adults become separated. In a secluded passageway Rosalie jumps Ken and smothers him with kisses and affirmations of love. The adults knowing they must rejoin the tour do so before they are able to consummate their new romantic union. They exchange promises of a rendezvous the next day. Tragically Rosalie, found by the maid and Anna early the next morning in a pool of her blood, has malignant uterine cancer. The disease is so far advanced that there is nothing to be done to spare her life as she slips in and out of a uremic coma where she sees the black swans in her dreams.
The review of this Book prepared by David Fletcher