The Ephrussis were a grand banking family, as rich and respected as the Rothschilds, who “burned like a comet” in 19th-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 of the 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.
©2010 Edmund de Waal (P)2011 Macmillan Audio
"Hare With The Amber Eyes" is a perfect book for someone interested in art history, family history, and the stories our stuff have to tell. That would be me.
Author Edmund de Waal is a ceramics artist, raised in a Church of England family. When he inherits a collection of netsuke (tiny Japanese carvings) from his great-uncle Iggy, he sets out to tell their story. This draws him into a two-year "vagabond" in which he explores his mother's side of the family. She is from one of the great Russian-Jewish merchant/banking families of Europe -- the Ephrussis.
The subtitle is "A Family's Century of Art and Loss." When the netsuke collection was acquired in the 1870s, in Paris, the Ephrussis were the toast of the town, mingling with authors like Proust and many of the Impressionist painters. But anti-Semitism lurks beneath the surface. The netsuke are sent as a wedding present to a nephew in Vienna, just as Hitler is beginning his rise.
Nothing remains but the stories. This is the theme, I think. Families come and go. Dynasties rise and fall. A few trinkets get passed along. We want their stories. De Waal does a beautiful job of following his curiosity, walking (as literally as he can) in his ancestors footsteps through Japan, Paris, Vienna, and Odessa. He's lucky in that his family was famous, so there is documentation of them everywhere. But instead of being overwhelmed with the details, he uses the netsuke -- and the family love of art -- to pull together a strong narrative.
The book also explores our attachment to our possessions -- most dramatically when the Nazis march through Vienna seizing property from the wealthy Jews, snatching their works of art and meticulously cataloging them for "Aryan" museums. The meaning of being dispossessed, of losing everything, came home to me. Like it or not, our possessions are us.
I originally downloaded the book on Kindle, but couldn't find the time to settle into it. So I wound up downloading it from Audible. Michael Maloney's reading immediately engaged me.
This non-fiction audiobook "reads" as a fiction book in the sense that it holds one's attention without bogging the reader down with dry minutiae. Each person in the recounting came to life in such a way that I still think of them.
It was fascinating to learn about this interesting and accomplished family and its fate, told in part through the travels of a collection of netsuke over two centuries.I was sad when the story came to an end, as the listening was so enjoyable.
When I heard about this book, my son was working on a family history project at school and we had just discovered that his grandmother had squirrelled away a family tree that dated back to 1460. Fascinated by seeing names of 17 generations and not knowing anything about them, I was drawn to The Hare with the Amber Eyes.
You won't be disappointed! This book is beautifully written, lyrical, moving. Michael Maloney's narration is perfect, his cadence enhancing the natural rhythm of the writing. It is a personal story of a family but it is also a story of this family's place in time and history, a story of the world outside the family and how events shaped the legacy and affected every individual that came before Edmund. The Hare with the Amber Eyes is one of the best books that I have read or listened to in the last 12 months. I highly recommend it.
The writing and the narration.
This story focuses on 'netsuke', tiny Japanese carvings which were fashionable in Paris during La Belle Epoque. The narrative wanders among the lives of the family who owned a particular collection of netsuke through Paris, Vienna and Tokyo with a few stops in other cities for background. Because the family was one of the wealthy Jewish banking families of the late 19th century and early 20th century, the story of the 'netsuke' illuminates some of the significant political, economic and cultural trends in which the family was involved,. In particular the role of the first Effrusi owner of the 'bibelots' in the high culture of Paris at the turn of the century is examined in letters and novels of the period. The story then travels to the transformation of Vienna from the capital of a splendid empire to the forefront of National Socialism, and makes a stop in the postwar period in Japan. The role of the objects we own and value is examined from multiple planes, much like through different sides of a prism.
I found the book very satisfying but found the performance frustrating at times. It was well read in terms of speed but the tone was at times overly dramatic. Also, the accent of the narrator was very pleasing and upper class (which matched the narrative) but he gets a bit carried away with the sound of his own voice and this sometimes distracted from the story. I have actually purchased a copy of the book because I would just like to read the story without the dramatic intonation. And despite sounding like he has an ear for languages, the narrator misprounounces a LOT of the foreign words, including 'netsuke'. If you listen to the podcast interview that follows the book, the pronunciation by the author and the interviewer makes it clear that it is mispronounced throughout the book. That was my only complaint with this recording. HIghly recommended book otherwise, especially for anyone interested in turn of the century culture and art.
subtle textured surprising
his ability to speak the many languages employed throughout - gives you a sense of place
a family epic like none other
Don't stop after the first 100 pages! This is a slow start, but then it just picks up and sweeps you away.
Listening to the story of the Ephrussi family took me to so much history that is interesting to me: art and collecting in the Impressionist period, the Jews in France and Austria, and the lives of people who help define and participate in their times. The personal journey of the author in learning about his family was beautifully described.
Each period of the story was memorable: the relationship of Charles Ephrussi with the Impressionists and with Proust, the hideous fulmination of Viennese anti-Semitism, the relationship of the author with his great uncle in Japan.
His inaccurate pronunciation of the word "netsuke." Considering that the journey of the netsuke collection is the core of the story and that it is the most important single word in the story, it is hard to understand how the pronunciation was overlooked.
There was a podcast with the author at the end of the book. He says the word correctly, of course, and that just made the error worse.
Yes, if I had that much time! I listened in huge chunks of time while I was working. It is also so good that I was sorry when it ended.
The book reads like a really good work of fiction which made it even more amazing that it is a true story.
I loved the way de Waal wove together his family's narrative from multiple countries and through multiple generations. His portrayal of the characters and life in the different societies painted a clear picture for my imagination. Ultimately, this is also a story of devastation and survival of Jews in the Holocaust.
I loved learning more of the history of the family's street in Paris, where I had recently visited. The family's history is so interesting that it led me to research more about the author, his artwork, the family and the locations.
Maloney adds another element of emotion through his reading.
The history of a great European dynasty.
There's a short interview with the author at the end of the story. Great to hear his voice and gain more insight into his life and his work.
Likes books and reading/listening
No, I enjoyed it fully. Now time to spread the word about this amazing journey.
Do I really have to limit it to one? The story isnt really structured that way. Its the experience of the whole book that matters.
Narration is very good. It did take me a little while to settle into it but once I did, could not stop listening. Now its done and I feel bereft. The sadness of finishing a truly absorbing story.
One of the finest books I have listened to as a devoted audiobook listener. ````
the lure of modern history intertwined with a family's poignant story
The entire book, from start to finish, commanded my attention. But the clarity given to the disintegration of cultured, empowered Jewish life in Vienna was heartrending. I realize now I did not comprehend the rapid descent into chaos. And this book speaks to the time with utter clarity and calm.
This book is the only audio book that has moved me to tears. The author has given me a window into my mother and grandmother's lives who, although not Viennese, survived Cristalnacht to escape Germany into Italy shortly thereafter. And maybe to empathize with my angry, unknowable mother.
A true story that never fails to captivate--have not read the print version, but friends who have read it say the two versions are equally fascinating.
Articulate and understated.
When Emmy and Victor were invaded by the Gestapo and thrown out of their palace.
A truly wonderful book.
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