Review: The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

 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.

Over the last few years, the film industry has become an almost inexhaustible source of reading inspiration. I have first looked up the story of Lili Elbe, while reading the rave articles about the stunning transformation of Eddie Redmayne, who started filming The Danish Girl shortly after scooping all possible awards for the role of Stewen Hawking.

David Ebershoff’s novel tells the story of Danish painter Einar Weneger and his American wife Greta, also a painter. Weneger became the first recipient of gender reassignment surgery after standing in as one of his wife’s models and gradually discovering his true feminine identity as Lili Elbe. Lili Elbe became a transgender pioneer, the story of her marriage is as unconventional and provocative as one may be. But the fact is, David Ebershoff’s novel bears only a slight resemblance to the truth, and had I know the extent of historical inaccuracies I would most likely have avoided reading it altogether.

Literature, and art in general, should allow space for artistic interpretation. However, when it comes to remarkable people who’ve lived remarkable lives, overt disregard to historical fact, especially when it comes to all but one character of the novel, is a sacrilege. In his acknowledgments, the author of The Danish Girl does state that the novel is only loosely based on Weneger’s /Elbe’s life, all other characters save for Einar/Lili have found no reflection in reality.

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Review: Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Letters from Skye is, truly, unputdownable, one of the rare novels that sweeps the reader away and does not let go. In 1912 Elspeth Dunn is a published poet, living as a recluse on the Scottish island of Skye. Skye is her world, Elspeth never traveled beyond, fearing to cross the waters separating the remote island from the British mainland territory. She is astonished to receive her very first fan letter from Chicago (of all places) college student David Graham.  Elspeth and David strike up a long-distance friendship, which, after years of correspondence, turns to love, even though the two never met in person and Elspeth is married. As the first World War rages in Europe and Elspeth’s husband Iain goes missing, David signs up as a volunteer ambulance driver to the French front.

In 1940, Elspeth is a secretive single mother, living in Edinburg with her daughter Margaret. As Elspeth and Margaret quarrel over the latter’s apparent feelings for a RAF pilot, Elspeth insists that nothing good may come of the search for love in war time. The second World War reopened Elspeth’s old wounds; Margaret starts to question what happened with her mother during the last global conflict, a bomb hits their street and Elspeth disappears, leaving behind a single mysterious letter from an American named Davey to a woman named Sue. Margaret begins the search for her mother and starts to unravel the secrets that shook Elspeth Dunn’s family during World War I.

Letters from Skye is a marvel-of-a-novel that has now conquered a very special place in my reader’s heart. It’s a historical novel, but also one of the most touching and poetic love stories a reader may get a chance to encounter. Elspeth and Davey are soulmates, divided by distance and consequence.  They haven’t met each other, but you are with them as they fall in love, and there’s a tremendous beauty in their story, they’re smart, funny and full of life. In short, they feel real. As the timeline skips back and forth between the 1910s and the 1940s, you understand that something dreadful happened during the first World War, but all of my guesses came short of what really took place.

Overall: 5*

10 things to expect: Outlander Season 2

As the cruel reality of droughtlander starts to settle in, time to look forward to season two. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the season promises adventure, heartbreak and surprises. Major ones, if you’re new to the Outlander series universe. Here are the 10 things I would be looking forward to on Season 2.

Some spoilers behind the jump.

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Review: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.

Suite Francaise is an astonishing masterpiece, its rich and exquisite prose is perfect in its unfinished beauty. The circumstances of its creation and publication are truly remarkable, this is no overstatement. Written under the Nazi occupation by a Jewish-Ukrainian author Irene Nemirovsky, it was discovered more than half a century after her death in Auschwitz. Suite Francaise is, in fact, one of the earliest works of fiction about the occupation of France.

Born in Kiev, Irene Nemirovsky fled the Russian Revolution with her family, settling in France at the age of 16. Nemirovsky started writing in French and published a total of nine novels. A Storm in June and Suite Francaise were passed on to Nemirovsky’s daughters after the arrest of her husband Michael Epstein. Denise Nemirovsky discovered that her mother’s battered notebook contained a novel only in the 1990s.

It is a strange feeling, the realization that you’re reading a novel written almost at the time as the historical events unfolded. I couldn’t help but wonder that Irene Nemirovsky might have known some of the book characters, or rather the real people that could have inspired them, that some of the scenes from Suite Francaise may have happened around her.

The characters of Suite Francaise are connected by an intricate thread, their paths cross and collide, as the war and Nazi presence provide the perfect setting for the reveal of their true character. A Storm in June captures the flight from Paris. As the Nazis advance on the French capital, Parisian residents scramble to get out of the city. Fear, lies, petrol stealing, worries about personal goods and status while the enemy is knocking on their doors… Dolce covers the year in the life of an occupied town called Bussy. The residents are forced to host a German regiment, they learn to co-exist, accept and in some cases, see the enemy as mere men. The story of Lucille and German officer Bruno is beautifully heartbreaking. The recently-released Suite Francaise film follows the events recounted in Dolce. It is a pleasure to say that the adaptation turned out brilliantly, despite some minor plot changes.

A reviewer has once compared Suite Francaise to a bombed cathedral. There are no truer words to describe a book of such magnitude: “The ruined shell still soars to heaven, a reminder of the human spirit triumphing despite human destructiveness.”

Review: Hare with Amber Eyes

From Japan to Paris, through Vienna and back to Japan. In his memoir entitled The Hare with Amber Eyes Edmund de WaalScreenshot 2015-02-15 21.53.45 recounts the fascinating family saga that surrounded 264 netsuke, traditional Japanese figurines that were given to his great grandfather on his wedding day…

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A stroll around Musee Rodin

Hidden away at the very center of the City of Lights, the Rodin Museum hosts a collection of art by one of the world’s most famous sculptors. Rodin’s magnificent creations are hidden around a beautiful 3 hectares garden, and it’s no wonder that this hidden gem has been welcoming Dior’s fashion shows for a number of years.  Here’s what it looks like on a sunny Parisian weekend:

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1950s fashion at Pallais Galliera

1947. Christian Dior transforms the feminine silhouette forever, making the women forget the austerity of the post war years and embrace the ‘new look’ that inspired generations of fashion designers to come.

The New Look was “direct, unblushing plan to make women extravagantly, romantically, eyelash-battingly female.” Vogue, 1957

 Yet, Christian Dior was not the only couturier who showcased the marvels of tailoring during the golden age of haute couture, that gave the world such names as Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Balmain and many others. Their names have truly become synonymous with elegance and luxury, their business drove the French economy of the time. The exposition gathers 100 dresses and accessories, retracing the history of the feminine silhouette from 1947 to 1957.

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Manufacturing desire: Branding Style from Armani to Zara

‘… fashion is based on creating a need where, in reality there is none. Fashion is a factory that manufactures desire,’ Bruno Remaury.

Books on fashion and luxury are oftentimes not easy to find, especially when you’re a cash-strapped student aspiring to make it in a mythical industry that for an newcomer looks like an array of closed doors. Here’s a brief review to one of the most comprehensive guides to the basics of fashion marketing Mark Tungate’s ‘Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara’.

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