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The Danish Girl Hardcover – February 7, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (February 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670888087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670888085
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,179,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Though the title character of David Ebershoff's debut novel is a transsexual, the book is less concerned with transgender issues than the mysterious and ineffable nature of love. Loosely based on the life of Danish painter Einar Wegener who, in 1931, became the first man to undergo a sex-change operation, The Danish Girl borrows the bare bones of his story as a jumping-off point for an exploration of how Wegener's decisions affected the people around him. Chief among these is his Californian wife, Greta, also a painter, who unwittingly sets her husband's feet on the path to transformation. While trying to finish a portrait of an opera singer who has cancelled a sitting, she asks Einar to stand in for her subject, putting on her dress, stockings, and shoes. The moment silk touches his skin, he is shaken:
Einar could concentrate only on the silk dressing his skin, as if it were a bandage. Yes, that was how it felt the first time: the silk was so fine and airy that it felt like a gauze--a balm-soaked gauze lying delicately on healing skin. Even the embarrassment of standing before his wife began to no longer matter, for she was busy painting with a foreign intensity in her face. Einar was beginning to enter a shadowy world of dreams where Anna's dress could belong to anyone, even to him.
Greta soon recognizes her husband's affinity for feminine attire, and encourages him not only to dress like a woman, but to take on a woman's persona, as well. "Why don't we call you Lili?" she suggests. What starts out as a harmless game soon evolves into something deeper, and potentially threatening to their marriage. Yet Greta's love proves to be enduring if not immutable. As Einar inexorably transforms, he steps beyond "that small dark space between two people where a marriage exists" and Greta lets him go.

Ebershoff does a remarkable job of historical prestidigitation, creating the sights and sounds and smells of 1930s Denmark and making it seem easy. Even more remarkable is his treatment of Greta: he gets inside her head and heart, and renders her in such loving detail that her reactions make perfect sense. Einar is more of a cipher, and ultimately less interesting than his wife. But in the end, this is Greta's book and David Ebershoff has done her proud. The Danish Girl marks a promising fictional debut. --Sheila Bright

From Publishers Weekly

Ebershoff, the publishing director at Modern Library, has taken a highly unusual subject--and a big chance--for his first novel. That it comes off triumphantly is a tribute to his taste and restraint and to the highly empathetic quality of his imagination. His book is based on the real-life story of Einar Wegener, a Danish artist who 70 years ago became the first man to be medically transformed into a woman--long before the much better-known case of Christine Jorgensen. Ebershoff has naturally changed some of the characters, giving Einar an American wife from his own native city of Pasadena, thereby introducing a New World perspective on the drama. For a very real drama it is. Einar struggles with his inclinations to become the woman he and his wife, Greta, refer to as Lili, seemingly more agonized about what the change would mean than Greta, who is deeply loving and amazingly supportive throughout Einar's long ordeal. Seldom has the delicate question of sexual identity been more subtly probed (one would have to go all the way back to Jan Morris's autobiographical Conundrum); and Ebershoff's remarkable feel for the period atmosphere and detail of 1920s Copenhagen and early-'30s Dresden, where Lili's life-transforming operation is finally performed, has been poetically and intensely rendered. The portraits of the various medical men who offer their very different solutions to the problem are brilliantly accomplished. The original story ended much more unhappily than Ebershoff's, but his poignant and visionary conclusion is a fitting one for what is, above all, and despite its sensationalist trimmings, a profound and beautifully realized love story. Eight-city author tour; rights sold in Germany, Italy, U.K., Spain, Australia, Brazil, Finland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

David Ebershoff is the author of four books of fiction, including The Danish Girl, The Rose City, and Pasadena. His most recent novel is the international bestseller, The 19th Wife, which was also made into a television movie. His writing has won a number of awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Lambda Literary Award. His books have been translated into eighteen languages to critical acclaim. Ebershoff teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. For many years he has worked as an editor-at-large at Random House, where he has edited many writers including Norman Mailer, David Mitchell, Gary Shteyngart, Teju Cole, Adam Johnson, Billy Collins, Diane Keaton, Jane Jacobs, Shirin Ebadi, and the posthumous works of Truman Capote and WG Sebald. Originally from Pasadena, California, he now lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

It is very sensitively written by David Ebershoff.
IRA Ross
People interested in the topic of gender reassignment would find this book interesting and even those who enjoy a deeply emotional story.
Darlene @ Peeking Between the Pages
Perhaps so, but the author seems to me to have buried an awful lot of feelings.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By PR on February 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Okay, I'll admit it: I picked up this novel because of its subject matter. I was interested to learn about the first person to undergo gender-reassignment surgery (1931! ), but more so, I was curious to see how the author would handle this amazing story. I was--simply put--blown away. The Danish Girl is not a novelization of an amazing historical anecdote--it is a beautifully written, senstively-handled, and deeply-engaging novel that it absolutely one of the best I have read in recent years. Here is a book that truly makes the reader stop and question one of our most rigidly held fundaments of identity, gender. And the book does so by convincingly rendering its characters of Greta and Einar and Lili. What a romantic and moving book! Not only in its landscapes--Denmark's bogs, fog-dimmed streets in 1930s Paris, a river bank in pre-WWII Dresden all beautifully captured with an eye as painterly as Einar's--but in its moving story of the love between Greta and Einar and, noteably, Greta and Lili. I thought the book a poignant and sophisticated portrait of a marriage, with all its complexity and complications, that changes as Greta and her husband both do. The Danish Girl I would recommend--and am recommending--to all readers I know.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By "dlevinso" on February 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Danish Girl is compulsively readable - primarily because the three characters Einar/Lili and Greta are so finely and fully realized. That a story which on the surface should be so unlikely - i.e., that a woman would help her husband find the "girl within" - becomes so inevitable on the page is, I believe, the author's greatest achievement. It's wonderful that Greta (the wife) herself does not fully understand why she's helping Einar/Lili but that her motivations - conscious and subconscious - are revealed slowly throughout the course of the book both to herself and to the reader. It's also fascinating how different Greta and Einar's relationship is from Greta and Lili's, yet how complex and real and loving these relationships are. I only wish that the book hadn't ended with us knowing so little about what happened between Greta and Lili after they've moved forward in their lives. Nonetheless, this is an incredibly promising literary debut and I look forward to reading more by this author.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By JM on February 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Brilliant -- THE DANISH GIRL is just what the book doctor ordered! The utterly absorbing plot is finely crafted and the questions that Ebershoff asks about love will stay with you long after you've read the last gorgeous page (truly -- I cannot recall a more beautiful and affecting last page). Perhaps most interesting to me is the character of Greta, a woman who is brave, curious, intrepid, creative, ambitious, a bit pushy, and ultimately not afraid to follow where love, the bonds of marriage, and commitment to the creative process might lead her. But that's not to say that Einar is any less compelling! Or that the lushly detailed settings of Copenhagen, Paris, California, and the Bluetooth Bog don't deserve as much praise. I feel as if I've been on the most fantastic voyage. This author should write for TRAVEL & LEISURE, his descriptions are that lucid and riveting. If I had a bookclub, I'd love for us to choose THE DANISH GIRL as our next selection -- there is so much to talk about! I highly recommend reading this novel.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on February 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a most unusual, perhaps unique novel of one man's journey from being a man to becoming a woman. Einar is Danish, and married to a California woman. They live in Denmark, and the story starts in the 1920s. There is a woman entrapped in Einar's body, and as the book progresses "Lili" becomes the predominant personality. Einar/Lili's wife Greta is supportive, and loves both persons. She and their circle of friends help Einar find a doctor who performs on Einar what is evidently the first transsexual operation.
This book is based on a true event, but the author's motivation in writing the book is not to record history. He attempts to focus on the emotional life of the characters. What does Greta feel as her husband slowly fades away, and a young woman takes his place? How does Einar cope with his sexual confusion? I feel the author is not totally successful in meeting this literary challenge. Greta is almost saintly in her support. Would she not have gone through more emotional turmoil than is predicted here? For one thing their weak sex life all but disappeared shortly after they married. All of their friends are totally behind Greta and Einar. Were people in Europe in the 1920s that much more tolerant than 20th century Americans? Perhaps so, but the author seems to me to have buried an awful lot of feelings. I worked for many years in the field of mental health, and came across a few transsexual patients. They were seriously conflicted individuals.
In any event this is a novel unlike any that I have read before. Highly recommended unless you find such topics threatening. This will probably not be choice reading for members of the Christian Coalition.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a stunning debut novel by someone who is no novice to the publishing industry, as he is the director of The Modern Library, which is a division of Random House. With this book as his entree into the ranks of novelist, Mr. Ebershoff rightly claims a place among the distinguished. This is a most elegantly written novel.
His book is loosely based upon the true story of Danish painters, Einar Wegener and Gerda Waud. They met in Copenhagen, while they were both art students, and married a few years later. He painted landscapes, while she would become known for her paintings of a mysterious sloe-eyed beauty. When it eventually became known that the model for the mysterious beauty in Gerda's paintings was, in fact, her cross-dressing husband, they became the scandal of Copenhagen. They left Denmark and sought refuge in Paris, France, where the mystery woman of Gerda's paintings began appearing in the flesh among the denizens of the Parisian demi-monde.
There is little doubt that Gerda encouraged her husband in his cross-dressing, as well as in his eventual surgical transformation. In 1930, the couple again turned the world on its head when it became known that Einar Wegener had undergone the world's first known sex re-assignment operation in Germany, and emerged as Lili Elbe. This provoked the King of Denmark himself to annul their marriage. Unfortunately, Lili Elbe's life as a surgically transformed woman ended in 1931 with her death.
The author expertly weaves these facts, which were the inspiration for this novel, into a lyrically written, haunting narrative about two people who were bound to each other by an unconditional love that would transcend the conventional. He creates an intriguing, spellbinding story that is a sensitive portrait of a most unusual marriage.
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