Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Danish Girl - David Ebershoff

'What if your name was, say, Lili?'


My nail polish went so well with this book
- does that mean I need to do a new one
now that I've finished it?
[I translated an English quote from Finnish back to English for you, so it's probably not perfect, but I didn't find one I loved on Goodreads so it'll have to do.]

Anyway, hi again! 

I picked this book up from the local library, and more specifically, an easy summer reading shelf. And while I don't necessarily agree on this being very light, I worked through it quite quickly and decided it could be my Pride Month book. I've reviewed some books with gay relationships before but I'd rather not label them as such unless it's on the back cover and obvious, you know? Because I'd prefer people go into them seeing them as books about people rather than books about gays. This isn't about sexuality, but rather the story of a transgender woman. That's on the back cover, and it's kind of the whole point of the book, so... I think it's okay to classify this as an LGBT book from the get-go.

This book is the story of Lili Elbe, who was born as a man named Einar Wegener in 1882 and was married to Greta Wegener. When I say it's a story, I feel like it's a very accurate word choice. The people were real and most of the biggest events described were that too, but naturally the author had a lot of artistic license while working with the book. He mentions that The Danish Girl is not their life story, and if you want to know more about Lili, she has a biography that was released after her death. Maybe I too will read that one day.

The book has chapters from both Lili (at the beginning, they are Einar's) and Greta's point of view. They are painters living in Copenhagen, Denmark, and their lives change one day when Greta asks her husband to model in place of their mutual (female) friend's feet for a painting. Slowly, Einar realises what he actually wants from life, and from there we follow the birth and life of Lili Elbe.

This is where I started this book, quite a way
away from where I finished it.
Oddly enough, this book is marketed as an amazing/unusual/passionate love story but I would only call it unusual and definitely not really a love story. Greta is there for Lili because she wants to be a good wife above all, but Lili does not give her much love in return, in my opinion. Because of this, their epic love story didn't really work for me, and I didn't find myself too fond of Lili either, especially towards the end. Obviously she has the right to be herself, but I wanted her to thank Greta or acknowledge her at least. To me, this was the story of Lili and Lili alone. Nothing wrong with that per se, but the marketing felt a little misleading in hindsight. Had I wanted an epic love story, I would have been pretty disappointed by this.

Sometimes I have difficulties finding just one nice photo
of a book but this one has gone on so many adventures with
me? I feel a bond with this and it's a library book, too!
There is a lot of detail in this work, which is quite cool considering the author mostly made it up in order to bring the story to life. I'd say he definitely succeeded in it! Considering he's an American and probably hasn't spent years in Copenhagen or Paris, either. I haven't spent a ton of time in either of these places either, but it felt real to me.

On the topic of America, one of the biggest changes he made to this book as opposed to the true story is changing Greta into an American and calling him Greta. You see, the actual person was called Gerda, and like her husband, she too was Danish. Ebershoff changed her name and made her Southern Californian like himself. This was done to, quote unquote, 'please the American audience'. The heck.  Though I suppose that for what it's worth, the scenes set in Pasadena felt very real, so one might say that maybe Ebershoff knew what he was doing.

It still didn't feel worth a 5/5 for me for some reason. It might be the ending that leaves things open or maybe just the fact that some of the event didn't really feel necessary for me.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 23: A translated book!