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
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.
©2000 David Ebershoff (P)2010 HighBridge Company
"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)
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.
Homemaker, married to Dave Bargar, mother of 8, Christian, Seventh-day Adventist, love to read!
An amazing glimpse into a world I cannot even imagine. Filled me with empathy for others struggling with these issues.
This was the second audiobook I've listened to with the cast split between Male and Female. The writing is beautiful, and is only bettered by the narrator who was able to perfectly and flawlessly transition between the masculine and feminine parts.
Great writing style- like painting on a canvas, although I would have preferred more information about the ending! It's suggestive but I just needed more.
I don't like to see movies before I read (listen) to the book so I have no idea how the movie treats the story.
So, not knowing where the story was going, I was totally engrossed by the story at the beginning.
The slow, bit-by-bit progression of the lead character into his transformation to identify as a woman was well done. It starts with just cross-dressing to model, then dressing outside, and then creating a full life for his female character.
But then it got really cumbersome with the medical aspects of the transformation including surgery that was extreme to begin with and then went so out of the norm as to be ludicrous.
If the story had stayed psychological it would have been great. But after the character is butchered by the great doctor, everything goes downhill—the characters health as well as the book.
It's a long book that should have been about 1/3 shorter.
HOWEVER the narrator deserves an award. Without resorting to cliche Danish accents, he manages to capture the spirit of the American characters and differentiate them from the Danish and European ones.
It added much to the enjoyment.
Avid listener on my daily commute!
The insights into what makes up the core of our sexuality, and how there are many subtle shadings and grey areas of human desire, which is fluid, nonlinear, and not merely binary male or female.
Lili, and the ways she is distinct from Einar.
No, but I would like to; he was the perfect voice for this material.
Greta, because unfortunately the absence of any real delving into her thoughts and feelings was what kept this from being a five star listen for me. Where was she, psychologically speaking, as Einar and Lili began to emerge as distinctly different personalities? How did she feel about her marriage to Einar? These are the questions I would love to be able to ask.
A solid credit-worthy listen. You won't be disappointed. I look forward very much to the upcoming film version!
and a penny for your thoughts
Nicely told story but what the heck kind of ending is that? What a disappointment. I won't give any spoilers but I'll say that this is a real rip off when it comes to the ending. You will have to Google sources to find out what happened. That's ridiculous. Otherwise, very nice narration.
Very happy I found this book on Amazon. It's captivating. Rich characters, psychological depth. We can feel personal transformation at work.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I really wanted to love it, but I feel like it went astray in a few too many ways. The publisher's summary says that this novel is loosely based on the lives of the artists Einar Wegenar and his wife Gerda. Einar Wegenar was one of the first people known to have undergone surgery for sex reassignment. The key word is loosely. I found the main thread of the story to be fascinating, so I did some research into the real lives of Einar/Lili and Gerda (called Greta in the book). David Ebershoff changed quite a few important details, which in itself is not a bad thing. This is fiction, after all, and a little artful restructuring often makes for a better story. However, I didn't feel that the details he changed improved the story, and I didn't see what the reasons were for some of the changes and omissions he made. Why make so many changes when the real story was actually much more interesting?
For example, the real Gerda wasn't American and wasn't married to anyone before Einar. There is a lot of speculation that Gerda was gay (or at least bi), which is not even hinted at in the book. Public scandal in conservative Copenhagen more or less forced the couple to leave the city in 1912, and it was in Paris that Einar was able to live openly as Lili. In the book, Einar/Lili's transformation journey has a furtive and surreptitious feel to it - something that not only wasn't entirely true in 1920's Paris, but which modern day audiences are far more willing to be open minded about.
I know a lot of other reviewers really enjoyed Jeff Woodman's narration performance, but I did not think he was the right narrator for this story. He does not do accents at all, and for a book that is set in several different European locations, good accents could have added quite a bit to the performance. Not only does he not do accents, he barely uses any distinguishing voice characteristics for the various characters, making it somewhat difficult to follow the story line at times. His reading was not very emotionally nuanced, either, which flattened out the story a bit. I wouldn't say that he did a bad job, but he didn't do a great job either. It was very middle-of-the-road.
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