Author: Edmund de Waal
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
This month, Club Read has been reading The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
In 1994, English Ceramicist, Edmund de Waal inherited 264 Netsuke from his great uncle Ignace. All hand crafted in Japan, the Netsuke were originally made as toggles to fasten a pouch onto the obi of a Kimonos. They were intricately crafted from ivory and wood, often inlaid with amber or bone, and were no bigger than a matchbox.
The Netsuke had been passed down through generations of the Ephrussi family. The Ephrussi’s originated from Odessa and at one time were the largest exporters of grain in the world. Charles Ephrussi, the family’s patriarch, was an avid collector who socialised with the likes of Proust, Renoir and the Rothschilds. Over the decades the family, and the Netsuke with them, moved all over the world – to Paris, Vienna, Hungary, and Japan.
The Hare with Amber Eyes is a book that defies genre. It combines history, art and biography together in a way that is engaging. It is crammed full of interesting details about the Ephrussi family – how they gained their fortune in Odessa and Paris, and lost it in Austria on the eve of World War Two. I loved discovering that Charles Ephrussi is the man in the top hat, standing in the background of Renoir’s famous painting Luncheon of the Boating Party (a copy of which just happens to hang on my wall!).
There was a general consensus amongst club members that the early part of the book was quite dry – particularly in regards to the acquisitions of Charles Ephrussi. We were all agreed, however, that the second part of the book when the family moved to Vienna was much warmer. The story of how the Netsuke managed to survive is a fascinating one and there are many colourful characters of the large Ephrussi family to enjoy along the way. All in all a terrific read filled with interesting historical insights.
Club Read average: 8/10