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The Danish Girl – David Ebershoff

by Ruvinie Machado


Loosely inspired by a true story, this tender portrait of marriage asks: What do you do when the person you love has to change?

It starts with a question, a simple favour asked by a wife of her husband while both are painting in their studio, setting off a transformation neither can anticipate. Uniting fact and fiction into an original romantic vision, The Danish Girl eloquently portrays the unique intimacy that defines every marriage and the remarkable story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and the woman torn between loyalty to her marriage and her own ambitions and desires.

“The Danish Girl” follows the marriage of artists, Einar and Greta Wegener. After their discovery of Einar’s transgender identity – a woman Greta names “Lili” in the opening chapter – the novel builds on the gradual change in their relationship.

Set in the mid-20th century, and as per it’s historical context, the novel is slowly paced and elegantly written. The backdrop of Europe is brought out in a dull, almost gothic light; while the discussion of early sex change surgery, yields a haunting and surreal quality to the book.

Although the topic of sexual identity is central to the novel, the major theme emphasized, is of marriage. The complexity of Greta and Einar’s relationship evokes sympathy from the reader. It’s also somewhat relatable, as it’s found on sacrifice and compromise.

With the subject of transgenderism, Ebershoff steers clear of confusion by brilliantly characterizing two distinct personalities for Einar and Lili.

Recommended for anyone looking for a moving and mature read.

Rating: 3.9/5