The Ephrussis were a grand banking family, as rich and respected as the Rothschilds, who "burned like a comet" in nineteenth-century Paris and Vienna society. Yet by the end of World War II, almost the only thing remaining of their vast empire was a collection of 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox.
The renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal became the fifth generation to inherit this small and exquisite collection of netsuke. Entranced by their beauty and mystery, he determined to trace the story of his family through the story of the collection.
The netsuke—drunken monks, almost-ripe plums, snarling tigers—were gathered by Charles Ephrussi at the height of the Parisian rage for all things Japanese. Charles had shunned the place set aside for him in the family business to make a study of art, and of beautiful living. An early supporter of the Impressionists, he appears, oddly formal in a top hat, in Renoir's Luncheon ofthe Boating Party. Marcel Proust studied Charles closely enough to use him as a model for the aesthete and lover Swann in Remembrance of Things Past.
Charles gave the carvings as a wedding gift to his cousin Viktor in Vienna; his children were allowed to play with one netsuke each while they watched their mother, the Baroness Emmy, dress for ball after ball. Her older daughter grew up to disdain fashionable society. Longing to write, she struck up a correspondence with Rilke, who encouraged her in her poetry.
The Anschluss changed their world beyond recognition. Ephrussi and his cosmopolitan family were imprisoned or scattered, and Hitler's theorist on the "Jewish question" appropriated their magnificent palace on the Ringstrasse. A library of priceless books and a collection of Old Master paintings were confiscated by the Nazis. But the netsuke were smuggled away by a loyal maid, Anna, and hidden in her straw mattress. Years after the war, she would find a way to return them to the family she'd served even in their exile.
In The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal unfolds the story of a remarkable family and a tumultuous century. Sweeping yet intimate, it is a highly original meditation on art, history, and family, as elegant and precise as the netsuke themselves.
From beginning to end, a truly spellbinding book. Brilliantly written! Full of emotion! I could not put the book down!55
Since the author inherited the netsuke collection and some family history you might expect this book to be good. Add to that all the research he did and the wonderful writing skills and you've got a great and fun to read book. Like three degrees of separation from a ton of very famous people.55
How reassuring for some of us for de Waal to confirm the importance of collecting things over time for the glue those collections provide a family's many generations. "Hare..." is an elegantly composed paeon to collecting and an elegiac memoir of a spectacularly Successful 19th century Jewish Family, its dissolution through Nazism, and its ultimate resurrection. Written in brilliant prose " Hare..." describes an aesthetic that will capture you throughout. And, Its descriptions of the Anschluss are unique.55
This book is the complete companion for the cultural history of Paris 1871- 1898 and post fin-de-siècle Vienna; the death of liberalism and the era of Facism followed by complete assimilation. It also demonstrates how we mourn greater for the losses suffered by the oligarchy than the suffering of the masses. A beautifully well written family history which tells us more about ourselves than we care to acknowledge. Miami Music Fan55
Loved the book! Edmund de Waal decided to write the history of his ancestors, the Jewish family of the the Enchrussies. Through the gift of life, the exclusive and highly estimated collection of Japanese netsukes that symbolically presented the very beginning of the success of the Enchrussie banking family, Edmund inherits the significance of the honor of the "next in line" by accepting and with that claiming the special rightful ownership of this inherited gift that seem to claim the underlying emotional link that ties him to this family of Jewish people whose tradition is finally severed by his grandmother Elizabeth. Her life, because of the cruelty of the Nazis, became, instead of more meaningful, so empty and disappointing that she no longer found the Jewish tradition satisfying to live with. She erased her past by getting rid of all the emotional ties including her correspondence with her Mother to allow her to continue her life, possibly to allow her to take on another religion! Edmund wonders why he really wrote this book? What is the real reason? I wrote above about his claim and the legacy that he accepted with the gift. I feel that he owed the recognition of his family and its history to his own self and his own family next in line so they will be more aware and more sensitive to the bloodline they came from. I appreciated the beautiful language, the knowledge and inside to the depth of the art's history and all that this talented author (besides outstanding artist) put into the language of this book. Viola Sterman25