I have to be honest, I picked up this book mostly due to the buzz the movie version has been getting. As I write this, the awards season has recently ended. As you well know, I have a rule that when I know a movie was based on a book I need to read the book first. I was not completely sure about whether or not that applied in this case, since the story is base in actual history, but decided I needed to stick with my rule.
The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff is based on the real life story of Einar Wegner who transitioned to become the lovely Lili Elbe. This is, reports indicate, one of the first identifiable cases of sexual reassignment surgery.
Before I really dive into the book, I want to make one thing clear. The book does do this, but I think you need to know what I am commenting on throughout this interview. While the book is inspired by Lili’s life during this period, it is not an exact historical account. It is fiction. The major events are supposed to be accurate to history, but not so with smaller ones (necessarily).
So, with that in mind, I am commenting on what I read in the book and this is not supposed to be historical.
This book made me tear up. It was wonderful.
I cannot imagine what it feels like to know that you were born in the wrong body, but I can appreciate going for what you know in your heart is right. What will, in the end, make you happy. The road Lili took from being Einar to laying him to rest and finally becoming who she was always meant to be is one of the most difficult paths about which I have heard. I know from the media, Internet, and general populace that being transgender is very difficult in today’s standards. But back then? In the 1920s? it had to be hell.
However, this raises a point for me. How much has it changed? Has it been a lot? Only a little? I am not fully versed in all of this, so I cannot give a complete opinion. But in the book…parts of it make it seem worse than today, but others make it seem like there has not really been much progression.
Some support Lili’s decision, others do not. I think the most striking difference between now and then is that the authorities allowed Lili’s transition but only if her marriage was declared null and void. Today, while I am sure that can happen in some areas of the world, I think it would be much harder to have it be declared on those grounds. Sure, the two parties could get divorced, but nullifying a marriage is harder. I could be wrong, but that is the way I understand it at the moment.
I have had to pause a few times while writing this. I have to admit that. This book covers what many consider a sensitive topic. I think David Ebershoff handles this book and the story with as much care as he could give to such a topic. I do not believe that anyone can really know the exact thoughts that would have gone through Lili’s mind. The ones who could come the closest though, would have to be those going through similar experiences.
I do not understand this experience. I never will.
However, when I read about Lili in this book…I was elated for her. I know a book is good when it elicits strong emotions from me. I knew it while reading this one.
It was beautiful. That is really what I have to say here.
Title: The Danish Girl
Author: David Ebershoff
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group