Wednesday, October 26, 2016

THE DANISH GIRL by David Ebershoff

Sex reassignment surgery in 1930?  Yes, indeed.  Einar Wegener is Greta Waud’s husgand but identifies as a woman named Lili.  Perhaps the most interesting facet of this novel, inspired by a true story, is that Greta encourages the emergence of Lili.  Both Einar and Greta are painters, and Lili becomes a muse and a model for Greta’s work.  Einar visits several physicians for help, including one who recommends a lobotomy, as he becomes more and more despairing of ever living fully as a woman.  Finally Greta sends him to a women’s clinic in Germany, where at first he is refused admittance because he is a man.  Einar figuratively “dies” after the sex reassignment surgery so that Lili can completely divest herself of him and live freely as a woman.  Ebershoff depicts Einar/Lili as possibly having a multiple personality disorder and gives Einar/Lili non-functioning ovaries from birth.  I would have preferred that the author not attribute Einar’s identifying as a woman to any physical or mental anomalies.  (In truth, no one really knows whether Einar had ovaries or an additional X chromosome.)  The big story here, though, is how a marriage can survive and even flourish when a wife never knows if she is going to wake up beside a man or a woman.  Greta amazingly embraces both Einar and Lili but recognizes that Lili must at some point “bury” Einar.  I found it particularly interesting that Greta is able to obtain a divorce from Einar, citing the fact that he no longer exists after the operation.  Greta wants him also to be declared dead, but then where did Lili spring from?  Despite the intriguing nature of the story, I found the pacing to be slow, particularly during Lili’s recovery.  Also, Einar comes off a little flat.  Surely there is something about him that attracts Greta in the first place.  More intriguing is the question of why Einar chose Greta as a partner, unless he intuited that she would be his ally and champion when he needed her most.

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