The Hare with the Amber Eyes, A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund De Waal
Toward the end of, The Hare with Amber Eyes, the author, Edmund De Waal writes “I’m writing a book about — I stumble to a halt. I no longer know if this book is about my family, or memory, or myself or is still a book about small Japanese things.”
A collection of Japanese Netsuke acquired by the author’s ancestor, Charles Joachim Ephrussi is the physical link between generations of a prominent Jewish family whose roots began in Russia. After acquiring their wealth in Russia the family branches out with members going to Vienna and Paris and establishing themselves in the banking business. Charles being the youngest does not go into the family banking business and instead is a patron of the writers and artists of the late 1800s. Owning and writing for his publication about the arts he is an avid collector. Reading De Waal’s account of Charles collection is a bit daunting and the only complaint I have with the book and the reason for a four stars rating instead of five. Documenting the collection sets the stage and articulates the family’s status and possessions but makes for dry reading. Once the Netsukes are given as a gift to the next generation living in Vienna the family’s story unfolds through both world wars until present day in a riveting way.
The Netsuke which have their own life in the family. Are first collected in Paris when anything Japanese was the rage to traveling to Vienna, then making their way to England and back to Japan before settling now back in England. These magnificent small sculpture provide the tread through which the family’s saga is told.
The Hare with the Amber Eyes was a wonderful book to read after our book club read In the Garden of the Beast some month’s ago. The Hare with Amber Eyes gave a personal account of a wealthy Jewish family’s acquisition of wealth, lost of everything when the Nazis occupy Austria and how those who survived build new lives and the generations that follow.