The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff is loosely inspired by a true story, with emphasis on the word ‘loosely.’ You can read more about the real Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe here, but I recommend waiting to learn more about the real people until after you read the book (my Goodreads review below explains why).
I haven’t seen the 2015 movie by the same name, but I may because the story is quite moving, breathtaking, and woeful. Despite its sadness, the story is important because it elicits feelings of acceptance: acceptance of others and acceptance of yourself. It’s a rough and confusing road when we are at odds with our identity, especially at a time and in a society with little tolerance or understanding. While The Danish Girl is considered tragic, it’s ultimately uplifting in that it’s a story of a young man who chooses to embrace the woman he was meant to be, and it’s a story of this young man’s wife who chooses to love and accept her husband’s true identity as a woman.
On Goodreads, I give The Danish Girl 5 out of 5 stars. Read my Goodreads review below:
This story is overwhelmingly melancholy and stunning. While it is Einar/Lili who is tragically in flux throughout the story, it is Greta who is the most tragic. Einar/Lili is someone who undergoes physical transformation from man to woman in the early 1930s; however, her mental (and physical to some degree) transition starts long before. It’s Greta, Einar’s wife, who recognizes Lili inside her husband and willingly sets her free. Greta’s sacrifice and love for both Einar and Lili are what will stay with me for a long time.
This story is loosely inspired by real people and real events, but the author clearly states that this is a work of fiction. The Danish Girl is mostly from the author’s imagination with some facts mixed in. It’s unfair to compare this story to the real events and judge the book lacking or off target. The Danish Girl is lovely and somber and absolutely captivating. You can view online the real Lili’s history (and photos), but I recommend doing that after you read this book, especially if you don’t want spoilers and to allow Ebershoff’s brilliant prose and your own imagination to paint the picture.
David Ebershoff does an excellent job capturing Einar’s mental and physical transition into Lili. His presentation is lyrical, baffling, piercing, and beautiful.
“but in the skull it was almost as if there were two brains, a walnut halved: his and hers.” ~ chapter 5
“Wasn’t everybody always turning into someone new?” ~ chapter 16
“But wouldn’t we all want to have someone ask us who’d we like to be? Maybe just a little?” ~ chapter 17
Note: Before The Danish Girl, Lili’s story was published in 1931 in a book titled Man into Woman: The First Sex Change, compiled from Lili’s letters and edited by Niels Hoyer. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my to-read list.
What do you think?