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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 (397 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: 19.6 x 13 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (397 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 727 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
518 of 535 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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308 of 318 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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73 of 78 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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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings 22 April 2011
For the first sixty or so pages of this book I felt distaste for the subject and for the bloodless style. The book had been highly recommended by somebody I wanted to please so I kept at it and gradually found myself becoming absorbed into the artistic worlds of Paris and Vienna. However, if I hadn't already read Proust and known a bit about art and about Paris and Vienna, particularly leading up to the Anschluss, I wouldn't have persisted.

There's a reason the Modernists revolted against the self-indulgence of the Belle Epoque - it was aesthetically as well as morally displeasing - and I was finding it so too. Also, I kept wishing for humour, irony, self-deprecation from the author....less detachment. I couldn't feel much for the Ephrussis - they remind me of the Bourbons (Marie Antoinette in particular) in that though I feel a painful indignation at the way they were treated, I don't actually like them.

I'm glad I read this book but I wouldn't recommend it ahead of George Clare's "Last Waltz in Vienna".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A history of a family told through objects of beauty.
A moving account of a family told through the travels of wooden and ivory objects. My one disappointment is that where the story should have been fat it was thin. Read more
Published 4 days ago by TC & MC
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
This was interesting and informative and I'm glad I read it.
A story of many generations of the Ephrussi family , it informs the reader about the state of Europe before,... Read more
Published 11 days ago by jackie cardy
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly haunting book
This book is many things: family saga, history book, reflections on art and culture, the author's own personal journey of discovery... Read more
Published 18 days ago by tangerina
4.0 out of 5 stars A historical sweep with a difference through Paris, Vienna, Odessa and...
This unusual story uses the provenance and world travels of a collection of Japanese objets d'art to illustrate the fate of a rich Jewish family of Polish/Russian origin, whose... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Susanne Haywood
3.0 out of 5 stars A lovingly written book of a not very sympathetic family
I'm afraid that I agree with many of the 3 star reviewers. While I thought that the premise of this book was interesting, and the WW2 Vienna section was informative and poignant, I... Read more
Published 27 days ago by laurel
3.0 out of 5 stars Book
To me it does not deserve the ratings given by the reviewers. Very boring at the beginning. Most people I know who have read it felt the same.
Published 1 month ago by Emo
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern History by a Master Historian.
Not read this lovely-looking book yet, but very much looking forward to it. I love the title and the illustrations also.
Published 1 month ago by S. A. V. Lewis
3.0 out of 5 stars The Hare with the amber eyes
Interesting - hard going - thought there would be more about the netsuke especially the hare with the amber eyes. Read more
Published 1 month ago by why
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good tale
This is a beautifully written book - full of really detailed description and a very good story into the bargain!
Published 1 month ago by anonofderbyshire
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally enthralling.
I love the time span and detail of this story, especially its references to the fin de siècle characters and events as well as to Tokyo and Japan. Read more
Published 1 month ago by mgol
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