Inspired by the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener and his California-born wife, this tender portrait of a marriage asks: what do you do when someone you love wants to change? It starts with a question, a simple favor asked of a husband by his wife on an afternoon chilled by the Baltic wind while both are painting in their studio. Her portrait model has cancelled; would he slip into a pair of women's shoes and stockings for a few moments so she can finish the painting on time?
"Of course," he answers. "Anything at all."
With that, one of the most passionate and unusual love stories of the 20th century begins.
Loosely based on the life of the first transsexual to undergo a sex change, Danish artist Einar Wegener, this novel is so much more than simply a voyeuristic glimpse into a little-known-about world. It’s about the marriage between Einar and his American wife Greta, how she copes with his alter-persona Lily – and even encourages it at times (Greta being the first person to suggest he slip into stockings so she can finish the legs of a female portrait she’s been working on, and even suggesting the name Lily). Alternating between the present day of their marriage and their respective pasts, a psychological profile is slowly woven together helping the listener fully understand the lives of these two (or three, depending on how you see it, as Einar and Greta both refer to Lily as a third person in their marriage) richly developed characters.
Woodman is the perfect storyteller for such a tale. His tone is subtle and unobtrusive, letting the prose shine. The character voice for Einar is a spot-on blend of masculinity, femininity, and vulnerability – the latter two even stronger for Lily. And he easily switches into a no-nonsense voice of strength and feminine confidence for Greta. Woodman’s pacing is slow and melodic, so the story unfolds without feelings of grandeur or shockwaves. You can listen to the inner thoughts of a man putting on a dress, and not feel that there’s anything particularly peculiar about it.
It’s clear that Woodman knows this story isn’t necessarily about delving into the lives of the atypical it’s about love. And that’s something everyone can relate to. Colleen Oakley
"Though the title character of David Ebershoff's debut novel is a transsexual, the book is less concerned with transgender issues than the mysterious and ineffable nature of love." (Amazon.com review)
“An unusual and affecting love story.” (The New York Times)
“A sophisticated and searching meditation on the nature of identity.” (Esquire)
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Tells a story I could only try to imagine.
An interesting, semi-nonfiction.
I think I would have had difficulty reading some of the names/locations properly, and the narrator made it simple.
A clear, smooth reading of an interesting story with some challenging words and accents.
I enjoyed this. While it isn't entirely factual, it is an interesting view of the story before and behind the first male-to-female transgender surgery, and gives a well fleshed out setting of the time this took place.
- Heather Stouffer