The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

“And the story of Lili Elbe is of course a story of identity. Lili is now recognized as an icon in the trans movement. She has inspired many of us, both trans and cis, to be ourselves. Lili knew that a false life is no life at all. Who are we? Whom do we want to become? How do we perceive ourselves? How do we want to be perceived? – these questions of identity are often at the core of our internal struggles. Resolve them and you are closer to being free. Almost a century ago Lili Elbe conquered these questions for herself. She posed for a portrait in an artist’s studio and said to the world, This is me”. – David Ebershoff, September 2015.

The story of The Danish Girl, as every one knows is about the journey of transformation. It is about the struggle an individual went through towards accepting her own body and in turn herself but not before she battled an internal upheaval. Lili Elbe is considered as a trans pioneer because of her sheer determination to go through, what at that time seemed like, extreme lengths. Her perseverance is the fictionalized story of The Danish Girl.

It should be noted that it is part fiction and part fact. The excerpt above has been taken from the Author’s note at the end of the book. However, if one looks up details of Lili Elbe’s life, the facts are all there and it is hard to imagine this book as any amount of fiction.

The story has been beautifully woven and the writing is effortless. The author moved from Lili to Einar and Einar to Greta and Greta to Lili and vice versa extremely naturally and gracefully. Before beginning the novel, I was worried about how the author would be sensitive and more importantly empathetic towards all three characters! I mean to be able to move around almost silkily through these characters and to write about Einar and Greta’s marriage with Lili factored in it almost seems surreal to me! By the end of the novel, I couldn’t have imagined it written any other way. It could be seen as too detailed sometimes, but it helped me in picturing the time, the era and the setting for the book.

This is a book that teenagers, young adults and adults should read to understand and develop sensitivity towards what may seem as a deviation from the norm. Along with sex education, children need to read this book to grasp the concepts of empathy, especially when it comes to sex and gender; to understand that the two are different; to understand that one may not comprehend everything there is but it is more important to be compassionate, empathetic, thoughtful, accepting and sensitive towards the population at large.

At the very core of this book is a story of not only identity but also acceptance, one that is from within as well as from the world around us.

Painting by Anagha Nigwekar



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