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5.0 out of 5 stars The Hare With Amber Eyes, 26 Jun. 2011
This review is from: The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (Paperback)
When I started to read The Hare With Amber Eyes I did wonder if I had chosen a dry biography about Edmund De Waal's family of which I knew nothing. Ostensibly, it appeared to be a book about 264 netsuke (a small toggle of Japanese origin made out of wood or ivory and carved intricately into a figure) which the author had inherited from his great-uncle Iggie.
However, once I read through the preface and into part one any doubts I may have had were soon dispelled. With the help of genealogy records and statements from members of his own family the author starts the task of discovering who the first owner of the netsuke collection was. He discovers that they had been purchased in the 1870s by a cousin of his great-grandfather named Charles Ephrussi. With this information De Waal sets out for Paris to try and establish a clearer picture of this unknown descendant and how he had come to own such an exotic collection.
Through his research De Waal discovers that Charles Ephrussi was a keen supporter of French art and literature from the 1870s through to the end of the 19th century, these two topics along with the family growth are covered extensively by De Waal in the first part of his book.
The second part of the book sees the netsuke move to Vienna as a wedding present from Charles to his cousin Victor von Ephrussi. De Waal continues his research into his family following their fortunes and misfortunes as the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapses and the political landscape changes irrevocably by 1938 with the rise of the Nazi party.
Having survived the Second world War the netsuke are re-united with De Waal's family and enter the possession of his uncle Iggie who moves to Tokyo to live, thus taking the netsuke full circle back to their spiritual starting point.
The Hare With Amber Eyes is an extremely well researched and enjoyable book, that arguably offers something for most readers. It does not matter if late 19th century French art and literature or early 20th century European history does not whet your appetite. These are added extras given by De Waal that supplement the splendour of the story to give an overall picture. The reader can still accompany De Waal as he travels tirelessly in search of answers, sometimes joyous and sometimes poignant, to discover what fate befell his descendants and why 264 Japanese wood and ivory carvings helped him to discover more than he could have thought.
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