Susan Van Metre'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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's review
Dec 31, 2011

really liked it
Read in December, 2011

I was attracted to this book because of the author's profession as a potter. I've taken pottery classes and share his appreciation of art objects that you can hold, and the intimacy of such appreciation. He traces his family's history via a collection of Japanese netsuke, small carvings made of bone and wood. My grandfather collected these as well, in the years after WWII, when he helped with Japanese reconstruction. de Waal's family are Jewish bankers in Paris and Vienna before and between the world wars, and the shocking fragility of their lives, seemingly so buttressed by vast wealth and influence, is heartbreaking and revealing of the fraught politics of the time. Most of the members we get to know survive the Anschluss in Vienna and go on to rewarding lives around the globe, but what's lost is lost with devastating rapidity. The netsuke miraculously survive and find their way back to Japan. This is an engrossing book and where we wish for more we understand that the narrative is limited by the lack of family record. There were moments of repetition, particularly around the netsuke and descriptions of how it feels to hold them. The author is also in love with the word "vitrine," which when repeated four or five times on a page begins to madden the reader. A tighter edit would have helped.

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