I’d been wanting to read this book ever since I saw the trailer for the movie with Eddie Redmayne playing Einer/Lili. Right from the start, we find out that Einer Wegener likes to cross-dress as Lili, a name his wife called him when he would pose for her paintings. Even though we know early on that Einer likes to pretend to be a woman, it still takes him quite awhile to discover that he is really Lili on the inside, and not just on the outside.
Greta and Einer are married and both are professional painters. Greta sort of wears the pants in the family; she is the initiator of the relationship. She is the one who asked Einer out and who first accepted Einer’s cross-dressing as Lili in public. I really respect Greta because she has to go through a lot as Einer’s wife. She goes on outings with Lili and sees other men flirting with her and even kissing her. I know I would not have been as accepting as Greta if I had to see my husband transform like that. Yet Greta keeps Einer’s secret until it starts to become detrimental to his health.
The story of Lili Elbe is a true one; Lili Elbe was the first known transgender person to have sexual reassignment surgery. One of the doctors in the book wrote off Einer’s feelings as homosexual. Another doctor thought the best treatment plan was a lobotomy–which just seems horrific nowadays because we know all of the horrible side-effects. But one doctor, Professor Bolk, finally decides to let Lili blossom, and suggests sexual reassignment surgery.
I don’t want to dive into the ethical/moral stigmas surrounding transgender issues, but I would like to focus on the writing for a bit. I felt like the author, David Ebershoff, wrote a lot of Einer/Lili’s feelings from experience. I did read on his personal website, http://www.ebershoff.com, that Ebershoff is gay and has been named as one of the 100 most influential LGBTQ people by Out magazine twice. This would explain his ability to understand just a little bit of the situation Lili faces and the reactions of the people in her life.
As readers, we are taken into the mind of Einer/Lili and we clearly see how sad and tormented Einer is about living a double life. We are also given Greta’s perspective as the wife of a man who is slowly becoming a woman before her eyes. I’m glad this was written from third person point of view, so we can see both sides.
I liked this book because it gave me a new perspective about transgender issues and because it’s historical fiction–which I love!