Amanda Ferrell's Reviews > The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
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Feb 27, 2011

really liked it
Read from February 27 to 28, 2011

Mr. Edmund de Waal started researching the origin of the netsuke that had been in the family for one hundred years. How did these tiny, ornate Japanese carved figures come to be in the family, and stay in the family. He wanted to get to the bottom of the story, not just the broad strokes that seemed 'thin' to him. This was the synopsis and opening of the story in the sample I was able to get for my Kindle. It read well, so I got the whole book. After reading a bit more, I realize I am in for a really comlicated story since the family is Jewish, although quite secular, living in Vienna before and during the 1930s. The Ephussia is a banking family, originally based in Odessa. Brothers settle in Paris, Vienna and London to establish and strengthen the banking dynasty. A member of the Paris branch is a serious collector of art and objet who acquires the netsuke in the 1880s, at the time that Japan is opened and Japonism is popular in Paris. As the fad passes, Charles, the colllector, sends these netsuke to a nephew and his new wife in Vienna at the time of their marriage, about 1895. The story is harrowing and heart breaking leading up to and including the second world war. ALthough the banking dynasty does not survive the War, the majority of the family does. How the nesuke get through is testament to loyalty and honor, in the backdrop of inhumanity. The netsuke eventually end up back in Japan with the author's great uncle.
The author manages to tell the story of the netsuke and the owners and keep it detailed, but not overwhelming. To find the why of the original acquisition, he explains the social workings of high society Paris in those days, and of his distant relative in particular. It sounds like an exciting time with casual refernces made to Renoir, Degas, Proust Caillebout and many more. He also puts the political scene in perspective with the undercurrent of antisemitism exposed after the court martial of a Jewish man in the 1890s with its ensuing controversy and probable frame job well explained. When the figures arrive in Vienna, in the author's great-grandparent's family, he again explains the personal and the political. There is a surprising amount of data available since the family was wealthy.
I did find some of the searching for meaning tiresome, particularly the musings about the significance of art and objects. On the whole, though I recommend this book. It is a story that combines personal, family and global history and is compelling
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