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The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance [Paperback]

Edmund de Waal
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (420 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Jan 2011



264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie's Tokyo apartment. When he later inherited the 'netsuke', they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined.

From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siecle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the netsuke's journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.

'You have in your hands a masterpiece' Frances Wilson, Sunday Times

'The most brilliant book I've read for years... A rich tale of the pleasure and pains of what it is to be human' Bettany Hughes, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year

'A complex and beautiful book' Diana Athill

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Product details

  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (27 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099539551
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099539551
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 12.8 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (420 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Edmund de Waal describes himself as a 'potter who writes'. His porcelain has been displayed in many museum collections around the world and he has recently made a huge installation for the dome of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Edmund was apprenticed as a potter, studied in Japan, and read English Literature at Cambridge University. 'The Hare with Amber Eyes', a journey through the history of a family in objects, is his most personal book.

Product Description


" full of beauty and whimsy as a netsuke from the hands of a master carver"--The Economist

"...this book is impossible to put down. You have in your hands a masterpiece."--Francis Wilson, The Sunday Times

"An intensely personal meditation on art, history and family, told in prose as elegant and precise as the netsuke themselves"--London Review of Books

"It is a rich tale of the pleasure and pains of what it is to be human"--Bettany Hughes, Daily Telegraph

"An exquisitely described search for a lost family and a lost time"--Colm Toibin, The Irish Times

"Both the story he uncovers and the objects he describes are fascinating and startling"--AS Byatt, Financial Times

"Unexpectedly combines a micro craft-form with macro history to great effect"--Julian Barnes, The Guardian

"A book of astonishing originality"--Evening Standard

"An extraordinary and touching journey with a backdrop glittering with images from Proust and Zola and Klimt"--Margaret Drabble, Times Literary Supplement

"Every page of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes gave me pleasure"--Rachel Polansky, Times Literary Supplement

Book Description

The history of a family through 264 objects - set against a turbulent century - from an acclaimed writer and potter

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
311 of 321 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An artist 's relationship with ancient artefacts 26 Nov 2010
Edmund de Waal is a renowned ceramic artist who's work has been exhibited in Tate Britain and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He can trace his ancestry back to a wealthy Ukrainian family who made their fortune from grain exporting and later banking, and who had spacious and luxurious homes in Vienna, Tokyo and Paris. When Edmund inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese netsuke carvings from his Uncle Ignace, he felt prompted to investigate their place in the family history. The Hare With Amber Eyes is the result.

The book opens with De Waal studying in Tokyo in 1991 while on a two year scholarship, visiting his Uncle Iggie (Ignace) in his home in Tokyo, which he shares with Jiro, his partner of 41 years. Ignace has a wonderful collection of netsuke which has been in the family since the late 19th century. Three years later, Uncle Iggie dies, and Jiro writes and signs a document bequeathing the netsuke to Edmund once Jiro himself has gone.

When Edmund eventually owns the netsuke he finds himself greatly intrigued by the history of this remarkable collection, and realises that all he really knows are a few anecdotes, which become thinner in the telling. The only answer is to carry out a proper investigation into their story - and off he sets to visit the locations the netsuke have resided in and to investigate those who owned them before.

The Hare with Amber Eyes is a lovely book. I have read similar accounts of family history where too much is assumed, where scenes are guessed at, conversations created where none could possible be recalled, and personalities are elaborated until they are far too larger than life. Edmund de Waal seems to be a very careful writer. He has only written about what he knows and what he can prove from primary sources.
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519 of 537 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remembrance of Times Past 24 Jun 2010
This is a mesmerising many-layered book. The fascinating narrative of the fabulously wealthy Jewish Ephrussi family moves through the decades from commercial Odessa to the Paris of the Impressionists and artistic salons to the brutal destruction of the Anschluss of 1938 in Vienna and a familial diaspora over three continents. Parallel to this, we follow with the author his own emotive journey to reclaim the lives lived in the vanished rooms of his forbears. This he does sensitively and successfully, imagining his way there through archives, letters and contemporary fiction. He visits all the great houses and, in Odessa, tasting the dust of the demolished palace rooms, he rejoices in the survival of the Ephrussi family emblem on a last remaining banister.

Such evocative writing and small discovered detail make this a story we want to follow with him and we find that this is not, after all, a tale of acquisition but of loss. The 264 tiny Japanese carvings (netsuke) bought in the 1870s in Paris are all that now remain of the family possessions. We also come to understand another loss: the Ephrussis no longer felt defined by their Jewish origins: artists and socialites passed through their grand salons. It is shocking to discover that even those who enjoyed their patronage were casually anti-Semitic. It is hard to read the vivid account of the abrupt violence of the Nazis as they took (almost) every precious possession from them, leaving them, in the end, only their Jewishness.

The netsuke are the beginning and ending of the story. Their exquisite detail is emblematic of this beautifully crafted book and its touching story of the individuals through whose hands they passed. One or other of them seems, like a rosary, to accompany the writer in his travels: a constant reminder to keep faith with his past.
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74 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have been recommending this book to all my friends since I read it. It provides a fascinating insight into fin de siecle Paris and early 20th century Vienna while exploring the lives of members of the Ephrussi family. The plight of the Jews and their treatment at the hands of the Nazis suddenly becomes personal, because you feel you know these people. You also get an insight into the factors that lead to their persecution.

It's mesmerising to learn of the provenance of some of the world's most famous art works, while the constant presence of the collection of netsuke is a leitmotif that binds everything together. This books crosses generations and continents. It is an easy read, but also a work of profound content. The author has managed to balance the emotions aroused learning about his forebearers with a detachment that analyses the factors that lead to their downfall. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in art, 19th and 20th century history or just enjoys family sagas.
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440 of 479 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A slight myopia 2 Feb 2011
I really wanted to like this book and, as far as literary craftsmanship is concerned, I do. It is beautifully written. But I can't help feeling that there is something important missing. We read about the fabulous wealth (and it was really fabulous) of the Author's forebears (the Ephrussis) going back five generations. These were men - and a few women - who commissioned works of Art from such as Renoir and Manet; who lived in huge palaces in the centre of Paris or Vienna; who owned huge estates in the Czech countryside and homes in many different cities; and who assembled their massive wealth, not through invention or production, but through banking and brokerage in foodstuffs. In living as the Author describes none of them, I am certain, meant any harm to anyone. They saw themselves, surely, as model employers, as philanthropists. They floated above normal Viennese (and Parisian) society; they were hardly affected by the First World War; the slump and depression of the early 1930s didn't affect their standard of living much; only the Nazis were able to bring down their world of privilege after the Austrian Anschluss of late 1937. And, unforgiveably, this happened because they were Jewish, as it happened to so many at the time. But the consequences for this particular very rich family were not as serious as for many of their fellow Jews, since they were able to buy their exits from Nazi Austria, albeit at the expense of almost their entire fortune, and with a huge amount of very stressful anxiety (which circumstance, the Author indicates, sadly killed his Great Grandmother). But those members of the Family who ended up in England for the duration of the Second World War lived in more comfort than many of the English, in a villa in Tunbridge Wells. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent edition
Published 2 days ago by John Webster
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful descriptions of locations
A thought provoking biography of de Waal's family spread over Russia, Paris, Vienna, Tokyo and Holland and ending in the UK. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Fambridge girl
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read but don't expect a 'novel'.
An academic study of a (very interesting) family history. Written in a fairly quirky style and certainly not a 'novel' as such but well worth persevering through the earlier,... Read more
Published 6 days ago by CS
5.0 out of 5 stars This a family history story with a difference. The ...
This a family history story with a difference. The author follows the journey his inherited artefacts made. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Mrs Pamela C Blythe
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that has everything to recommend it.
Such a good book. It's well written and has a strong story line as well as making you feel for the family as it was buffeted and finally destroyed by war. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Charles MacKinnon
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully told story of family, history and art
A fascinating, extraordinary and sometimes tragic account of a collection of Japanese netsuke carvings, from 19th century Europe, back to Japan and finally finding their way into... Read more
Published 17 days ago by Scribblah
5.0 out of 5 stars Non ficton that should be read.
A journey threw history from a man that should be writiing for a living, well researched and well written
Published 17 days ago by T Harrington
4.0 out of 5 stars Second time around
I enjoyed reading this much more the second time around.The slow pace and detail was much more entertaining and informative.
Published 19 days ago by LyraB
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
What a story !
Published 19 days ago by Mrs. H. Wilson
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 19 days ago by MICHAEL LOWSLEY-WILLIAMS
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