Book Talk: *The Danish Girl*, by David Ebershoff (TLC Book Tour)

Disclosure: I was provided with an autographed copy of this book by the author for the purposes of this review (via TLC Book Tours). *Purchasing links in this review will generate referral fees through my Amazon Affiliates account.

Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
The Danish Girl: A Novel
David Ebershoff
Penguin (Non-Classics) (2001), Edition: Reprint, Paperback (ISBN 0140298487 / 9780140298482)
Fiction, 270 pages

Opening Lines: “His wife knew first. ‘Do me a small favor?’ Greta called from the bedroom that first afternoon. ‘Just help me with something for a little bit?’

“‘Of course,’ Einar said, his eyes on the canvas. ‘Anything at all.’

Book Description: Inspired by the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener and his California-born wife, this tender portrait of a marriage asks: What do you do when someone you love wants to change? 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 a pair of women’s shoes and stockings for a few moments so 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.

Comments: A novel based on the story of the first known male-to-female sex change sounds potentially off-putting, doesn’t it? I can’t say the premise of The Danish Girl grabbed me right off the bat. But author David Ebershoff’s historical fiction The 19th Wife was my one of my Books of the Year for 2009, and Ti‘s strong review of this book, his first novel, made me re-think my position on reading it.

The transgendered have been with us for longer than we realize, and Danish painter Einar Wegener was the first to undergo a successful surgical sex change from male to female, living as Lili Elbe for several years until her death in the mid-1930’s. Ebershoff used Lili’s own diaries and letters as part of his research into this little-known bit of history, and has built it into a remarkably moving and enlightening story.

Ebershoff’s writing is very descriptive and the pace of the novel is almost languid at times, but it reads surprisingly quickly. The narration is in the third person, shifting perspective between Einar/Lili and Einar’s American-born wife Greta. This provides insight into the characters and their situation from different angles, but also kept me as a reader at a slight emotional distance – not far enough to make it difficult to connect, but as if to prevent excessive intimacy.

And this is a very intimate story – not in the sense of graphic physical details (there are far fewer than one might expect), but in the way it explores the emotional makeup of two people in a marriage that’s becoming more unusual by the day. This is as much Greta’s story as Einar/Lili’s, and in some ways she comes across most vividly. I believe that no one really knows what goes on within a marriage except the people in it, and in the Wegeners’ case that may be truer than most. They have a genuine connection to one another that holds even as their relationship irrevocably changes.

The Danish Girl is a fascinating and beautiful novel, and is currently in production as a movie adaptation starring Nicole Kidman and scheduled for release in 2012.

Rating: 3.75/5

*Buy The Danish Girl: A Novel at
Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Tuesday, May 4th: Bermuda Onion
Wednesday, May 5th: Lit and Life
Thursday, May 6th: Rundpinne
Friday, May 7th: Redlady’s Reading Room
Monday, May 10th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, May 11th: Book Addiction
Wednesday, May 12th: Shooting Stars Mag
Monday, May 17th: The Zen Leaf
Tuesday, May 18th: Eclectic Eccentric
Wednesday, May 19th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, May 20th: Worducopia
Monday, May 24th: She is Too Fond of Books
Tuesday, May 25th: The Feminist Review
Wednesday, May 26th: Regular Rumination
Thursday, May 27th: Book Club Classics

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