minda, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by minda)
Incredibly well written for someone so young and not a professional writer. De Waal's account of the history of his family (whose members knew people like Proust and Rilke), the assembly of its collection of Japanese miniature carvings called netsuke and how the collection survived the Nazi takeover of Austria had me fascinate.
Robert Moyer, September 20, 2011 (view all comments by Robert Moyer)
Author(and artist)De Waal has created a genre unto itself--a treatise on art, a reflection on collecting, a memoir, a travelogue, and a drama, all as he tracks a collection of netsuke(the small carved figurines which held bags on kimono sashes). These small objets d'art are the only remnants of his family's fortune. He traces them and his family from Paris to Vienna through the Holocast to a vitrine in his hallway in London; it's a jouney that transports the reader as well. One of the best books of the past few years. Period.
Mary Jackson, January 6, 2011 (view all comments by Mary Jackson)
This is one of the finest books I've ever read. It's history, family, and art combined. I was fascinated by the wealth and social status of Mr.de Waal's family in Paris and Vienna, completely surprised by one great uncle's literary relationship with Proust, appalled by the anti-Semmitism rampant in both cities, and terrified that his relatives wouldn't escape the Nazis.
Mr. de Waal, a potter, also meditates on the nature of art. What is art? What is the function of art? Why is art important? Why are certain pieces of particular interest. I think, like Proust, he would say that art exists through family, memory, and love.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"In this family history, de Waal, a potter and curator of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum, describes the experiences of his family, the Ephrussis, during the turmoil of the 20th century. Grain merchants in Odessa, various family members migrated to Vienna and Paris, becoming successful bankers. Secular Jews, they sought assimilation in a period of virulent anti-Semitism. In Paris, Charles Ephrussi purchased a large collection of Japanese netsuke, tiny hand-carved figures including a hare with amber eyes. The collection passed to Viktor Ephrussi in Vienna and became the family's greatest legacy. Loyal citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Vienna Ephrussis were devastated by the outcome of WWI and were later driven from their home by the imposition of Nazi rule over Austria. After WWII, they discovered that their maid, Anna, had preserved the netsuke collection, which Ignace Ephrussi inherited, and he settled in postwar Japan. Today, the netsuke reside with de Waal (descended from the family's Vienna branch) and serve as the embodiment of his family history. A somewhat rambling narrative with special appeal to art historians, this account is nonetheless rich in drama and valuable anecdote. 20 b&w illus. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
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.
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