Review: The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

Title: The Danish Girl
Author: David Ebershoff
Published: December 3rd 2015 by W&N (first published 2000)
read in: December 2015

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Historical Fiction • LGBT • Romance

And wasn’t that the inexhaustible struggle for Greta? Her perpetual need to be alone but always loved, and in love.

It starts with a question, a simple favour asked by a wife of her husband while both are painting in their studio, setting off a transformation neither can anticipate. Uniting fact and fiction into an original romantic vision, The Danish Girl eloquently portrays the unique intimacy that defines every marriage and the remarkable story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and the woman torn between loyalty to her marriage and her own ambitions and desires.

The Danish Girl is an evocative and deeply moving novel about one of the most passionate and unusual love stories of the 20th century.


By now, most of you have probably noticed that I’m not a big fan of historical fiction. I was planning on watching the movie adaptation, and like always, I needed to read the book first. It was certainly out of my comfort zone to start reading this genre, but I tried very much to overcome it and judge the book objectively.

The book was a fictional story about a real transgender in the past, which we know as Lili Elbe, one of the first ever documented recipients of sex reassignment operations. By far, this is the second book I read about transgender character. The first was None of the Above by I. W. George. Although they both told the same issue, both did a good job portraying each with a very different manner.

The story was told in a very random manner. It started when Einar and Greta both happily married, and went on with a couple of flashbacks told either in the beginning of every chapter or once in a while in the middle of each. I wasn’t really a big fan of too many flashbacks, because sometime they can get confusing, but somehow I quite enjoyed both the two main characters’ past.

My only problem with the book was on Greta’s character. I don’t know about the real Greta, but Ebershoff’s creation of Einar’s wife was unrealistic. Greta’s emotion wasn’t described as how I expected it to be. With Einar struggling with his identity confusion, Greta was portrayed to be an all loving and supporting wife. Okay, I didn’t say it is wrong being a loving and supporting wife, but as a human, I believe she have her own level of selfish-ness. I would like to read more of her conflicted opinion rather than her obsession with painting Lili.

Overall, I didn’t think the book did a really big impact to me. I liked how the book could make me put myself in Einar and Lili’s shoes, understanding how conflicted a transgender could feel. But I expected more from the other characters that I couldn’t find myself drown into the story.



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