The Hare with Amber Eyes
A Hidden Inheritance
By Edmund de Waal
(Picador, Paperback, 9780312569372, 368pp.)
Publication Date: August 2, 2011
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An Economist Book of the Year
Costa Book Award Winner for Biography
Galaxy National Book Award Winner (New Writer of the Year Award)
Edmund de Waal is a world-famous ceramicist. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots--which are then sold, collected, and handed on--he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive.
And so begins this extraordinarily moving memoir and detective story as de Waal discovers both the story of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. A nineteenth-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothchilds. Yet by the end of the World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.
Edmund de Waal's porcelain has been displayed in many museum collections around the world, and he has recently made an installation for the dome of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He was apprenticed as a potter, studied in Japan, and studied English at Cambridge. He is Professor of Ceramics at the University of Westminster and lives in London with his family.
- Charles, like the rest of Paris, became swept up in the fad of "japonisme", which led to the original purchase of the netsuke. What did these objects represent to their collectors in the Belle Epoque?
A family memoir written with a grace and modesty that almost belie the sweep of its contents: Proust, Rilke, Japanese art, the rue de Monceau, Vienna during the Second World War. The most enchanting history lesson imaginable.
An extraordinary history...A wondrous book, as lustrous and exquisitely crafted as the netsuke at its heart.
A lovely, gripping book.
Enthralling . . . [de Waal's] essayistic exploration of his family's past pointedly avoids any sentimentality . . . The Hare with Amber Eyes belongs on the same shelf with Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory.
This is a book Sebald would have loved.
At one level [Edmund de Waal] writes in vivid detail of how the fortunes were used to establish the Ephrussis' lavish lives and high positions in Paris and Vienna society. And, as Jews, of their vulnerability: the Paris family shaken by turn-of-the century anti-Semitism surging out of the Dreyfus affair; the Vienna branch utterly destroyed in Hitler's 1937 Anschluss . . . At a deeper level, though, Hare is about something more, just as Marcel Proust's masterpiece was about something more than the trappings of high society. As with Remembrance of Things Past, it uses the grandeur to light up interior matters: aspirations, passions, their passing; all in a duel, and a duet, of elegy and irony.
Absorbing . . . In this book about people who defined themselves by the objects they owned, de Waal demonstrates that human stories are more powerful than even the greatest works of art.
Delicately constructed and wonderfully nuanced . . . There are many family memoirs whose stories are as enticing as Edmund de Waal's. There are few, though, whose raw material has been crafted into quite such an engrossing and exquisitely written book as The Hare with Amber Eyes . . . One of the great triumphs of The Hare with Amber Eyes . . . is not just the assiduous way in which de Waal interrogates his raw evidence--scattered articles and newspaper cuttings, old paintings, forgotten buildings--but the way he summons up different eras so evocatively . . . [De Waal] is, too, as you would expect of a potter, wonderfully tactile in his investigations, interrogating the physical feel of the Ephrussis' different buildings, touching surfaces, assessing materials. This sensuality transmits itself also to his prose, which is beautiful to read--lithe and precise, crisp and delicate. The result is a memoir of the very first rank, one full of grace, economy, and extraordinary emotion.
Remarkable . . . To be handed a story as durable and exquisitely crafted as this is a rare pleasure . . . Like the netsuke themselves, this book is impossible to put down. You have in your hands a masterpiece.
From a hard and vast archival mass of journals, memoirs, newspaper clippings and art-history books, Mr. de Waal has fashioned, stroke by minuscule stroke, a book as fresh with detail as if it had been written from life, and as full of beauty and whimsy as a netsuke from the hands of a master carver. Buy two copies of his book; keep one and give the other to your closest bookish friend.
What a treat of a book! It projects an iridescent mirage that once was real, a pageant of exquisite fragility, an aesthetic passion somehow surviving the brutalities of history. Mr. de Waal's nostalgia is tart, tactile, marvelously nuanced.
A self-questioning, witty, sharply perceptive book . . . The Hare with Amber Eyes is rich in epiphanic moments . . . By writing objects into his family story [de Waal] has achieved something remarkable.
A beautiful and unusual book . . . [A] unique memoir of [de Waal's] family . . . De Waal has a mystical ability to so inhabit the long-gone moment as to seem to suspend inexorable history, personal and impersonal . . . A work that succeeds in several known genres: as family memoir, travel literature (de Waal's Japan is the nearest thing to being there, and over decades), essays on migration and exile, on cultural misperceptions, and on de Waal's attempt to define his relationship with his own kaolin creations. His book is also a new genre, unnamed and maybe unnameable.
Part family memoir, part Proustian confession, subtle, spare and elegant.
A marvelously absorbing synthesis of art history, detective story and memoir . . . A nimble history of one of the richest European families at the turn of the century . . . Remarkable.