The Hare with Amber Eyes

by Edmund de Waal

Every once in a while, I run across a book that has such wide appeal that I can easily imagine giving copies to nearly everyone on my gift list.  One such book—and my favorite work of non-fiction this year—is The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal.  The author, a potter and curator of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum, contemplates the history of his ancestors—a fabulously wealthy Jewish banking family—from the latish 19th century through World War II.  He uses as the linchpin for his discussion a collection of 246 netsukes, miniature ornamental carvings (including one of a hare with amber eyes), which were originally collected by the first Charles Ephrussi, and handed down from generation to generation.  In the process, the collection moved from Japan to Paris to Vienna, back to Japan, and thence to the author, in London.  The Ephrussis were a cultural force both in Vienna and Paris. You can see what was once their house on Vienna’s Ringstrasse even now. Charles was a patron of many artists and writers; he was also the model for Swann in Proust’s great novel, and he appears in Renoir’s The Luncheon of the Boating Party (he’s the man in the back, in profile, with a top hat and a reddish beard).  I’m giving this book to friends and family who love history or biographies or art or visiting and/or reading about Paris or Vienna; to those who enjoy family sagas and, especially, to anyone who appreciates graceful, understated writing.  And those who love books with family trees.  Kudos to the publisher, FSG, for producing a book that’s both a pleasure to hold and behold.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Hare with Amber Eyes

  1. Diane Kendy

    (Hit that Send button too soon!)

    Nancy, I finally got to read this WONDERFUL book, which I am recommending to everyone. So beautifully written, this extraordinary story really speaks to my own German Jewish (although not fabulously wealthy!) background. Plus, my son has lived in Tokyo with his Japanese partner for the past 20+ years.

  2. This was outstanding. I have recommended it to many people.

  3. I’ve added this to my Christmas Wish List. Thanks for the great review. 2011 promises to be another GREAT reading year!

  4. Faye Foster

    I couldn’t agree more about this book. I read during my long evenings of waiting for my son at football practice. There were some evenings I wished practice would have run late, because I didn’t want to stop reading.

  5. Mary Brogan-Sizemore

    Dear Edmund,

    Thanks for the description of a potentially wonderful read. Your description reminded me of one of the settings for last year’s “The Children’s Story,” by Byatt.

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