Set in the 1920s and '30s in Copenhagen, Paris and Dresden, and inspired by a true story, The Danish Girl is about one of the most passionate and unusual marriages of the 20th century. Einar Wegener and his American wife Greta Waud have been married for six years, but have yet to have a child. Both painters, they live a life of bohemian langour in Copenhagen until one day their lives are irreversibly altered. An opera singer whose portrait Greta is painting fails to turn up for her sitting. Greta asks her husband if he would put on the soprano's stockings so that she can continue her portrait. Einar agrees and as he pulls on her stockings, slips into her yellow shoes and finally draws over his head the soprano's dress, he stirs up in himself a remote sensation that he might be in part be a woman. Einar dresses more and more as Lili - the name given to her by Greta - and what started off as a game becomes a way of life for Greta and Einar. With Lili as her muse, Greta's painting begins to flourish. A Parisian art dealer spots her work and the couple move to Paris so that Greta can pursue her career as an artist. Lili is liberated too and increasingly becomes Greta's companion. As Einar fades into memory they decide that a choice has to be made: Lili or Einar. Greta finds a doctor in Dresden who is researching sex-change operations and Einar travels to Germany to become once and for all Lili Elbe. This elegantly written, sensual and engrossing novel is a wonderful celebration of love. With great sensitivity and intelligence, David Ebershoff tells the story of this extraordinary marriage, which survives the hardest test any couple could face. The Danish Girl is an unusually powerful and moving debut.
David Ebersoff is 29. He is the Publishing Director of the Modern Library at Random House in New York. He is writing his second novel, Pasadena.
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