Hare with Amber Eyes (de Waal)

Book Reviews
The author was apprenticed as a potter…and his aesthetic sensibility extends to language: there is much wit and dramatic instinct to relish in these pages. But the intelligence and creativity with which de Waal constructs a family history are what make this special book so supremely ­winning.
Megan Buskey - New York Times

The Hare With Amber Eyes belongs on the same shelf with Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory, Andre Aciman's Out of Egypt, and Sybille Bedford's A Legacy. All four are wistful cantos of mutability, depictions of how even the lofty, beautiful and fabulously wealthy can crack and shatter as easily as Faberge glass or Meissen porcelain—or, sometimes, be as tough and enduring as netsuke, those little Japanese figurines carved out of ivory or boxwood.
Michael Dirda - Washington Post

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.
Richard Eder - Boston Globe

A beautiful and unusual book...[and] 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.
Veronica Horwell - Guardian (UK)

(Book of the Year.) 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.

In this family history, de Waal, a potter and curator of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum, describes the experiences of his family, the Ephrussis, during the turmoil of the 20th century. Grain merchants in Odessa, various family members migrated to Vienna and Paris, becoming successful bankers. Secular Jews, they sought assimilation in a period of virulent anti-Semitism. In Paris, Charles Ephrussi purchased a large collection of Japanese netsuke, tiny hand-carved figures including a hare with amber eyes. The collection passed to Viktor Ephrussi in Vienna and became the family's greatest legacy. Loyal citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Vienna Ephrussis were devastated by the outcome of WWI and were later driven from their home by the imposition of Nazi rule over Austria. After WWII, they discovered that their maid, Anna, had preserved the netsuke collection, which Ignace Ephrussi inherited, and he settled in postwar Japan. Today, the netsuke reside with de Waal (descended from the family's Vienna branch) and serve as the embodiment of his family history. A somewhat rambling narrative with special appeal to art historians, this account is nonetheless rich in drama and valuable anecdote.
Publishers Weekly

A duel, and a duet, of elegy and irony (Boston Globe), de Waal's extraordinary family memoir brings his forebears vibrantly to life. To augment his research, de Waal visited his surviving relatives and toured his ancestors' palatial homes, and these intimate explorations, relayed in self-assured and unsentimental prose, imbue his story with the solemn, awe-inspired air of a pilgrimage. The critics praised this sensitive and richly detailed history, particularly de Waal's powerful account of the Nazis' atrocities. While the San Francisco Chronicle, the sole voice of dissent, found de Waal's story boring, the Christian Science Monitor declared that "there isn't a dull moment" in it. The Hare with Amber Eyes—part biography, part travelogue, and altogether a rip-roaring good story—should appeal to readers as well.
Bookmarks Magazine

(Starred review.) Not only did ceramicist de Waal inherit an unusual collection—264 netsuke, miniature figures exquisitely carved in Japan—he was also given the key to the remarkable history of his father’s Russian-rooted, cosmopolitan Jewish family, the Ephrussi, who made a fortune exporting grain. Charles, a cousin of de Waal’s great-grandfather, acquired the netsuke just before the Japonisme craze crested in late-nineteenth-century Paris. A well-known collector and critic, an early champion of the impressionists, and the primary model for Proust’s Charles Swann, he gave his netsuke and vitrine, a customized glass display case, as a wedding gift to his Vienna-based first cousin, Viktor, and Emmy, his much younger, avidly fashionable wife. Their daughter, Elisabeth—a poet who exchanged letters with Rilke, a trail-blazing lawyer, and de Waal’s grandmother—rescued her family from the Nazis. Elisabeth’s brother Iggie, an intelligence officer, brought the collection back to Japan. As today’s keeper of the storied netsuke, famed artist and curator de Waal tells a spellbinding and perceptive tale of extraordinary accomplishment and loss, beauty and terror, reinvention and survival in an intricately dimensional, profoundly involving first book, a sensitive and astute inquiry into culture and family, inheritance and preservation, and the secret life of objects. —Donna Seaman

A nimble history of one of the richest European families at the turn of the century. De Waal, a notable London potter, is a descendent of the wealthy Ephrussi family. He seized on an inherited collection of Japanese netsuke—small decorative figures made out of wood or ivory—and traced its ownership down the family line, from patriarch Charles Ephrussi, originally from Odessa, to Great-Uncle Iggie, of Tokyo, who left the 264 elegant figures to the author upon his death in 1993. The family's fabulous wealth derived from the grain-trading business, operating between Paris and Vienna. Charles, who assembled the collection, was a dandyish art collector who settled in Paris at the age of 21, wrote art criticism and a book on Durer and patronized the early Impressionists. He was quite possibly the real-life character on whom Proust modeled his Charles Swann. Subsequently, the netsuke was given to Charles's cousin Viktor on the occasion of his wedding in 1899—just at the height of the Dreyfus Affair, when French anti-Semitism burst forth in full force—and the collection passed to Vienna, where the family resided at the surpassingly beautiful Ephrussi Palais on the Ringstrasse. Anti-Jewish feeling pervaded all facets of their lives, and two world wars wreaked havoc on the Ephrussi fortune. Eventually the netsuke was saved from the rapacious hands of the Nazis by a servant who stuffed it in her mattress. De Waal keeps a pleasantly ironic tone throughout this remarkable journey and nicely handles the clutter of objects and relatives. The roster of characters is daunting at first, but this narrative proves a marvelously absorbing synthesis of art history, detective story and memoir.
Kirkus Reviews

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