David Ebershoff's inspiration for this arresting book is the true story of Einar Wegener, a minor Danish painter of landscapes. Einar is married to Greta, an American who paints rather pedestrian portraits.
It is Greta who initially realizes that within her husband there is another personna. She suggests that he pose for a portrait—which includes stockings and high heeled shoes because the model she is painting was unable to finish the sitting and it is the bottom half of the painting that needs to be finished.
The date—1925. Almost immediately Einar feels comfortable in the dress and the stockings. He has crossed over into another world, one that feels authentic.
From this point on Einar inhabits more and more of the Lily side of himself. Greta encourages him to enter this other world. It appears that he is so androgynous that when he dresses as Lily no one suspects that he is a man.
This isn't a case of Einar cross dressing. He is a woman caught in the body of a man.
Eventually he can no longer live in this bind and Lily cannot not be bound within his body. In 1931 a doctor is found who will perform the surgery to transform him into Lily—surgically. Einar will be eliminated and Lily will emerge fully. Drastic surgery leaves Lily weak and in continual pain.
Since there are few detailed letters or diaries, David Ebershoff creates and imagines the dialogue as well as many of the characters in the novel. This is a rare love story. Greta, her own needs toned down, fully encourages Einar to become Lily. She loves him. She loves Lily.
The author's crafting of the setting is rich and the reader senses the atmosphere of Copenhagen, Paris and Dresden through the details he selects.
Despite most of the story being imagined within Ebershoff's mind, I could accept the reality of the emotional turmoil surrounding Einar.
No one who reads The Danish Girl will finish the book without being moved by the inner turmoil of anyone caught between who they know they are and who they appear to be on the surface.
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