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on 2 January 2017
This book has an intriguing concept, a family story from the perspective of a set of netsuke as a family heirloom. The writing is crisp and clear and I was attracted to it on the back of many of the reviews here.

However, it is pretty ponderous in places, losing focus on more than one occasion. It's not always clear whose narrative it is following, and whether the netsuke are supposed to be featuring at all. Occasionally you start to hope that it will become part art history, part historical biography but it fulfils neither option well and at times just lists events and people rather than providing any details.

The most interesting, thought provoking and - indeed - unsettling part to this book is the description of the family history during world war two. But other than that it's very dry and not one to be re-read.
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on 13 May 2014
This is the story not only of a collection of Netsukis but of their owners, the Ephrussi family, who like the Rothchilds had sent their children out from their Russian (Odessa) trading origins to grow into world citizens and to grow through their entrepreneurial efforts into hugely rich citizens of the West. However, in 1930s Vienna the story unravels. The wealth disappears, a generation of broken hopes and success barely survives. The Netsuke manage to return to their native Japan still in the care of a member of the Ephrussi family until they are eventually repatriated to the West when Edmund de Waal finds he has inherited them. A moving and sobering tale, I much enjoyed, and which opened poignant windows to the Nazi efforts to arianise the defeated and annexed parts of Europe.
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on 8 November 2016
I'm not sure why but I thought this was a treasure hunt novel. Instead it is a recount if the history of a collection of netsuke and their owners. Not always an easy read it was genuinely interesting. I think more people should be made to read the chapters on the German invasion of Austria as despite the rhetorics it appears that we have forgotten how easy it is to move from nationalism to racism and the desire to reclaim our country transforms into the eradication of a race. Sad and difficult reading. A thought provoking book.
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on 11 January 2017
I first heard parts of this as a serial on the radio and wanted to know more. I found this book fascinating for the detailed history of one family over three generations, with the main focus on Vienna in the 1930s / 40s. It is too long, in my view, and could have been edited down - but, that said, I did want to know what happened to the individuals. I went on the read Last Waltz in Vienna - and then The Returners by Elizabeth de Waal (Persephone Books)
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on 13 January 2016
I had been lead to believe this was a 'must read', but by half way I had almost given up. Then the section on the 1930's rescued it.
This book is a family history told through objects and materials, with name dropping thrown in. The main characters remain quite two-dimensional, though their history is varied and should be more interesting.
The problem lies in the disjointed writing style and poor editing. For example in one paragraph, the first sentence tells us there are to be two paintings of 'mother' and 'aunt', but the next says they are of the daughters, with no explanation. I often had to read a sentence twice, then resorted to fast reading.
Once I forgot the style, the section on the Anschluss was very moving and informative. As for the netsuke and the hare, they were only light cement to bond the story together - their prehistory was rarely mentioned and so much more could have been made of them.
I'm glad I read it all, but it could have been so much more satisfying with a heavy edit.
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on 28 September 2017
Tried to read it for my book club but couldn't make it through even 100 pages. I will give any book a chance, and read to the end even if I'm not liking it in case my mind gets changed, but I genuinely couldn't do it with this one. Very dull. I'm sure some people found it interesting from an historical or genealogical point of view, but I just found it really tough going trying to find interest in it.
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on 17 September 2012
I didn't actually realise this was a biography when I bought it and its probably just as well, because I'm not a great fan of the genre normally and wouldn't have read it had I realised. It actually turned out to be a well written and engrossing account of the author's ancestors - the incredibly rich Ephrussi's. This Jewish, Ukrainian dynasty made its wealth transporting grain in Odessa and then moved into banking.

Edmund De Waal is a well known ceramicist, who inherited a collection of Japanese netsuke from his Uncle Ignace and partner Jiro, whom he lived with while studying in Japan in his formative years. Upon receipt of the collection Edmund embarks on a journey to discover their place in his family's history.

The netsuke were bought in 1870's Paris and it was fascinating to read about this branch of the family and their proximity to famous impressionist painters of the time. I kept finding myself looking up paintings on the internet that were mentioned in the story, which bought the whole tale to life for me, and helped to set the scene beautifully.

From Paris the netsuke were given as a wedding gift to a branch of the Family living in Vienna. Again this was a fascinating account of growing anti semitism and Anschluss in Austria.

All in all a very enjoyable read, tracing the rise and fall of a powerful dynasty!
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on 21 September 2016
Finally got around to reading it. It's beautifully written, but to be honest the subject matter is a little dull. The author is basically describing how he ends up with some family heirlooms. It starts in Paris which is interesting, follows the original buyer throughout his life. Then it moves to Vienna when the cabinet of netsuke is given as a wedding gift. Description of that family and the times they lived in. Very nice. I was struggling at this stage. It's a good read, but nothing had gripped me.
And then the Nazis came.
The author's family was Jewish, by the way.

Reading how his great grandfather and family were treated must be one of the most moving experiences I have had for quite a while. The shocking efficiency of it. The systematic removal of their property, their dignity, all done in such a cold, calculated way. Completely chilling.
I would recommend reading this book just for that. The remainder is a well-research, fond family memoir which is written with great skill. But the Nazis...that part kept me awake at night. Brrr....may we never, ever forget.
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on 17 May 2011
I've only just read this, and intend to read it again to check my perspective and grasp of detail. This is not a book that can be summed up in a few words.
I found that it took a bit of 'getting into', but that perseverance was worthwhile. Once hooked, the details were fascinating. I greatly enjoyed the 'multilingual' nature of it - a plenitude of international locales and characters.
This is a history of the writer's family over the last couple of centuries - no ordinary family - and of the journeys upon which he embarked to find out about them. It is thus also an intriguing record of how the world (or parts of it) has changed and is changing. It seems to me that a great many significant ideas are hinted at or touched upon tangentially or 'in passing'. De Waal focusses on what interests him and does not belabour his points. His descriptions of objects - clothes, objets d'art, furniture, architecture - are tactile and vivid. He recounts events objectively, almost dispassionately, allowing the reader to infer the realities behind the surface detail.
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on 27 April 2017
A lot of my friends recommended this book but maybe I had a preconceived idea and i was disapoointed
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