The Danish Girl
by David Ebershoff
Penguin Books, 2000, ebook 494 pages, Fiction
This novel is an unusual, emotional, and deeply moving love story inspired by the lives of the Danish painters Einar and Greta Wegener at the turn of the twentieth century. This tender portrait of marriage and change starts with a simple favor asked by a wife of her husband in the paint studio, which sets off a course of transformation and realization that neither could have predicted. The Danish Girl tells the poignant story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and those she was close with as they each navigate their loyalties, ambitions, and desires.
Having no transgender people in my immediate circles I was very curious how Ebershoff would approach this interesting and poignant story. I was wrapped up in the lush and vivid descriptions of Denmark, California and Paris and was so impressed with the writing and structure. This book makes you think and feel things about situations that seem almost incomprehensible for a normal life. What was surprising to me is the medical advancements that were available so much earlier than I expected. The various relationships and love triangles are deeply moving and emotional. This is only loosely based on the life of Lili Elbe, so it should not be read as biography, but rather as fiction. I am glad for fiction books like this that explore transgender issues (and some of the other harder topics of modern life) that often get twisted with politics, religion, and social concerns, rather than focusing on the individuals whose lives are directly affected. This book is intended for a more mature audience both with themes and writing style.