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The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritanceby Edmund de Waal
Synopses & Reviews
The Ephrussis were a grand banking family, as rich and respected as the Rothschilds, who “burned like a comet ” in nineteenth-century Paris and Vienna society. Yet by the end of World War II, almost the only thing remaining of their vast empire was a collection of 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox.
The renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal became the fifth generation to inherit this small and exquisite collection of netsuke. Entranced by their beauty and mystery, he determined to trace the story of his family through the story of the collection.
The netsuke — drunken monks, almost-ripe plums, snarling tigers — were gathered by Charles Ephrussi at the height of the Parisian rage for all things Japanese. Charles had shunned the place set aside for him in the family business to make a study of art, and of beautiful living. An early supporter of the Impressionists, he appears, oddly formal in a top hat, in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. Marcel Proust studied Charles closely enough to use him as a model for the aesthete and lover Swann in Remembrance of Things Past.
Charles gave the carvings as a wedding gift to his cousin Viktor in Vienna; his children were allowed to play with one netsuke each while they watched their mother, the Baroness Emmy, dress for ball after ball. Her older daughter grew up to disdain fashionable society. Longing to write, she struck up a correspondence with Rilke, who encouraged her in her poetry.
The Anschluss changed their world beyond recognition. Ephrussi and his cosmopolitan family were imprisoned or scattered, and Hitler’s theorist on the “Jewish question” appropriated their magnificent palace on the Ringstrasse. A library of priceless books and a collection of Old Master paintings were confiscated by the Nazis. But the netsuke were smuggled away by a loyal maid, Anna, and hidden in her straw mattress. Years after the war, she would find a way to return them to the family she’d served even in their exile.
In The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal unfolds the story of a remarkable family and a tumultuous century. Sweeping yet intimate, it is a highly original meditation on art, history, and family, as elegant and precise as the netsuke themselves.
"A family memoir written with a grace and modesty that almost belie the sweep of its contents: Proust, Rilke, Japanese art, the rue de Monceau, Vienna during the Second World War. The most enchanting history lesson imaginable." The New Yorker
"An extraordinary history....A wondrous book, as lustrous and exquisitely crafted as the netsuke at its heart." The Christian Science Monitor
"Enthralling...[de Waals] essayistic exploration of his family's past pointedly avoids any sentimentality....The Hare with Amber Eyes belongs on the same shelf with Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
An Economist Book of the Year
Costa Book Award Winner for Biography
Galaxy National Book Award Winner (New Writer of the Year Award)
Edmund de Waal is a world-famous ceramicist. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots — which are then sold, collected, and handed on — he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive.
And so begins this extraordinarily moving memoir and detective story as de Waal discovers both the story of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. A nineteenth-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothchilds. Yet by the end of the World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.
About the Author
Edmund de Waal's porcelain has been displayed in many museum collections around the world, and he has recently made an installation for the dome of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He was apprenticed as a potter, studied in Japan, and studied English at Cambridge. He is Professor of Ceramics at the University of Westminster and lives in London with his family.
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