By David Ebershoff
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: February 2001
The blurb from the publisher:
It starts with a question, a simple favor asked of a husband by his wife on an afternoon chilled by the Baltic wind while both are painting in their studio. Her portrait model has canceled, and would he mind slipping into women’s shoes and stockings for a few moments so that she can finish the painting on time? “Of course,” he answers, “Anything at all.” With that, one of the most passionate and unusual love stories of the twentieth century begins.
The Short of It:
A non-traditional love story that will stay with you long after you put it down.
The Rest of It:
I absolutely loved this novel. The novel itself was inspired by the marriage of Einar and Gerda Wegener, both artists living in Copenhagen in 1925. As Einar realizes that he is indeed a woman, seemingly trapped in a man’s body, he becomes Lili and the three of them live together as a family of sorts. At first, he dresses as Lili in the privacy of the apartment that he shares with Greta but as the weeks pass and with the support of Greta, he begins to allow Lili to take short shopping trips. After several outings, Lili is introduced as Einar’s sister and even attends a few social gatherings. As her confidence grows, Greta sees less and less of Einar and she realizes that soon her husband may not exist at all.
Ebershoff paints Einar as a very delicate creature. Here is an example:
“Einar pressed the side of his face into the pillow. He fell asleep again. There he was, Greta’s huband. With his fine skin, and his small head with the temples that dented softly, almost like a baby’s. With his nose flaring with breath. With his smell of turpentine and talc. With the skin around his eyes, red and nearly on fire. “
The love that Greta has for her husband is what encourages her to support his transformation. As afraid as she is of losing Einar, she feels that his happiness means more to her than their marriage. Once she accepts this, she begins to seek medical advice which results in Einar’s permanent gender modification. The first of its kind.
There are some very tender moments and some very difficult decisions made. Lili is surrounded by supportive friends as she completes the transformation but where does this leave Greta? Greta misses Einar yet she loves Lili and realizes that at some point, she must let Lili live her own life.
I’m telling you, this story just broke my heart but in a wonderful, “ball up your hankie and shed a tear” kind of way. This is my book club’s pick for this month (selected by me) and the meeting is tomorrow so I have to wait a day to hear what they thought of it but I am hoping that they enjoyed it as much as I did.
The other item that I want to mention is that The Danish Girl is being made into a movie and will star Nicole Kidman as Einar/Lili and Charlize Theron as Greta. How’s that for casting?
David Ebershoff also wrote The 19th Wife, which I know a lot of you have read. The Danish Girl was his first novel.
I’ll leave you with this photo of Lili Elbe: