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The Danish Girl: A Novel (Movie Tie-In) Paperback – October 27, 2015
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“Heartbreaking and unforgettable . . . a complete triumph.”—The Boston Globe
“An unusual and affecting love story.”—The New York Times
“A sophisticated and searching meditation on the nature of identity.”—Esquire
“It is nearly impossible not to be moved.”—The Baltimore Sun
About the Author
David Ebershoff’s debut novel, The Danish Girl, won the 2000 Lambda Literary Award for transgender fiction and has been adapted into a major motion picture starring Academy Award-winner Eddie Redmayne. His most recent novel is the # 1 bestseller The 19th Wife, which was made into a television movie that has aired around the globe. He is also the author of the novel Pasadena and the collection of short stories, The Rose City. His books have been translated into twenty languages to critical acclaim. Ebershoff has appeared twice on Out Magazine's annual Out 100 list of influential LGBT people. He teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University and has worked for many years as an editor at Random House. Originally from California, he lives in New York City.
- Item Weight : 8 ounces
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143108395
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143108399
- Product Dimensions : 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint Edition (October 27, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #733,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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I just didn't buy the characters. Surely the first person to undergo gender reassignment surgery would be someone who was brave, strong-willed, and probably a colourful personality. Lili struck me as the sort of person who simply accepts whatever life brings, without resistance; childlike and timid. Greta, as a physically striking and very wealthy American, also seemed like a square peg in a round hole. She swings back and forth between being hesitant to even speak to her husband, and playing the role of controlling mother to him. I struggled to get a sense of who she really was. I don't know what the original people (who inspired this novel) were like, but I imagine them to be bolder, louder, and so much more colourful than the subtle shades-of-grey Lili and Greta are drawn with.
I'm not sure where the reader sits with this novel. The writing style is to create small details with the reader linking them together to see the bigger picture. But sometimes we sit close to the characters; and sometimes they are subjects that we're studying. For example, there's an unspoken suggestion about where the doctor is taking his donor organs, and it's shocking; sending the reader's mind reeling. But the characters are completely aloof from it, which has the effect of pushing the reader back from the story.
And finally, there was no humour in this novel - never a light moment, or little black humour to inspire a grim smile. No moment when the reader could share a smile with any of the characters, or with the author. Personally, I found that made the characters and their story difficult to access.
I hope that’s a fair and helpful review. I read a number of reviews before I bought the book, and they were all glowing in their praise so obviously there are a lot of readers out there who will love this story. But it didn’t suit me at all, and it was a relief to reach the final page.
The worst part is that the main character, Lili, is stripped of all agency and self-direction. The decision to come out, how to come out, to pursue gender confirmation surgery all originate from Lili's cisgender, straight wife. Lili drifts through her life shepherded by her dynamic wife who has been changed by the author into a completely fictional wealthy Californian rather than the real woman. Lili's fate remains the same, but in the author's take, it's her decision to pursue a choice of her own rather than her Californian's recommendation that kills her.
Instead of an inspirational tale of one of the first people to very publicly pursue being transgender, you're getting a beautifully written story of a straight, cisgender woman rescuing her transgender spouse in every way conceivable.
Do not recommend.
While I knew the bones of this historic surgery, that left enormous gaps in the lives which drove the patient to risk so much pain and death to have her body be matched to her authentic inner self... and the depth of her relationship with a lover and wife able to love, support, and release her to follow that oh so perilous and painful path toward dreams of a complete transition. We cannot KNOW all the inner lives of the cast during this time, but this story feels very true to a handful of quite dramatic times and lives. We can learn from and share from this haunting and beautiful telling of the story the depths of sorrow and the heights of ambition that fill the lives of those with gender identity disorder or the intersexed among us. It succeeds brilliantly in that regard, beyond being simply a spectacular novel.
I seldom review novels, perhaps 2% of those that I read unless I am very significantly moved by it and feel that I have learned and grown as a human being by the experience. No novel that I have read in the last few decades has moved me as greatly as has The Danish Girl. I will be strongly recommending it to all my friends.
Top reviews from other countries
The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff opens in Copenhagen in 1925 with a wonderful enigmatic four word sentence – ‘His wife knew first.’
Greta asks her husband Einar to wear silk stockings and feminine shoes to pose for her, so that she can continue painting a portrait in the absence of the female model. This is the first act in both of them beginning the gradual process of acknowledging Einar’s effeminate tendencies. Once begun his awareness of his feminine side, his longing to be female, accelerates, but not without misgivings and trepidation. Lili, his alter-ego emerges as a real person and increasingly Einar behaves as if they are two separate people.
Einar’s transformation into Lili, his wife, Greta’s amazing love and support and the pioneering work of the surgeon who helped him achieve his desire to have a female form is based on a true story. In The Danish Girl it is told with sensitivity and grace.
The setting, pre-war Copenhagen and later Dresden, is evoked wonderfully. Greta and Einar live in a world of art and culture in the heady days before recession and the bleak war-years. The richness of their lives is beautifully drawn, the characters are very empathetic and the story is moving and bitter-sweet. According to Lili’s diaries the surgeon found ovaries in her body when he operated, suggesting that she was actually hermaphrodite.
The novel is based on the diaries of Lili Elbe and newspaper stories about her from the time, when she was, for a while quite famous.
The author makes it clear that he has written a novel and all but the two main characters are fictional, but they are representative of the circles in which they moved and the attitudes they encountered.
The book is now an equally sensitive and visually stunning film. I recommend reading the book first!
Now I'll be honest, I have very little knowledge of the ins and outs of LGBTIQ rights, choices, lifestyles etc. I have friends who fit into those categories if you'd like to call them that, but that's exactly why I don't make it my business to know too much. I think that by categorising we can sometimes stop looking at people as ordinary folk. We start labelling them and putting them into bundles and categories and ticking boxes and that's where it all starts falling apart. So while I wholeheartedly support the LGBTIQ community what I'm trying to say is that this is the first time I have read something in depth about a transgender person.
This story is first of all beautifully written. There is something in the way that it is written prettily and delicately that personifies the story itself as Lili. The subject is dealt with in a manner which is accepting and honest, that looks at the feelings of all the people who are involved in Lili's transformation not just herself but Einar's wife, the couple's friends and all the people who have loved Lili before and after she became a woman. It taught me a lot about transgender feelings about identifying as someone else and how terrifying this can be for that person who is still unsure who they are. It also taught me about hermaphroditism and what that actually means. I think we've all had a view in our heads of what it is and this book shows me that this view was in fact incorrect.
It was an interesting perspective from the 1930s when acceptance was not like it is now (even though it could still be better) and the authors view of the minutiae of day to day life and the oddity of Einar appearing one day and waking up as Lili the next kept it a page turner despite the story being a slow build up.
I can't say I enjoyed The Danish Girl as much as i developed as a person FROM this book. That my understanding and own personal acceptance were broadened as I rooted for Lili and yet rooted for Greta as well in a world which must have been terribly confusing for her to understand. The Danish Girl is all about acceptance and learning that no matter the challenges you can fight for your right to be who you feel you truly are inside. I'll be giving the film a watch soon see if it lives up!!
I loved the the artistic, almost painterly descriptions which really made me feel that I could see the inside of the apartment, the light there, the paintings, Einar and Greta themselves. This all seemed particularly appropriate for a work of fiction revolving around two artists. This very vivid visual imagery is later replaced by a more psychological approach, all owing the reader to get into the mind of Lili / Einar. Again given the mental turmoil which one must face if imprisoned in the body of the wrong gender, this was an excellent device for the author to use.
It is, of course, a fictional account of Einar's metamorphosis into Lili and David Ebershoff capitalises on the freedom which this gives him. by renaming Einar's wife, Greta (as opposed to the historical Gerda) he has more opportunity explore the relationship between the couple before, during and after Einar's transition into Lili and to make the reader think about the reasons for Greta's actions, without suggesting the same motivation for Gerda.
All in all a fascinating read which works on a variety of levels. It will almost certainly lead me to read more about Lili Elbe.