Winner of the 2010 COSTA Biography Award. A total of 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox: potter Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in the Tokyo apartment of his Great Uncle Iggie. Later, when Edmund inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger than he could ever have imagined.…
The Ephrussis came from Odessa, and at one time were the largest grain exporters in the world; in the 1870s, Charles Ephrussi was part of a wealthy new generation settling in Paris. Marcel Proust was briefly his secretary and used Charles as the model for the aesthete Swann in Remembrance of Things Past. Charles’s passion was collecting; the netsuke, bought when Japanese objects were all the rage in the salons, were sent as a wedding present to his banker cousin in Vienna.
Later, three children - including a young Ignace - would play with the netsuke as history reverberated around them. The Anschluss and Second World War swept the Ephrussis to the brink of oblivion. Almost all that remained of their vast empire was the netsuke collection, smuggled out of the huge Viennese palace (then occupied by Hitler’s theorist on the ‘Jewish Question��), one piece at a time, in the pocket of a loyal maid – and hidden in a straw mattress.
In this stunningly original memoir, Edmund de Waal travels the world to stand in the great buildings his forebears once inhabited. He traces the network of a remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century. And, in prose as elegant and precise as the netsuke themselves, he tells the story of a unique collection which passed from hand to hand - and which, in a twist of fate, found its way home to Japan.
This audio edition also features an interview with Edmund De Waal from the Vintage Books podcast.
©2011 Edmund de Waal (P)2011 Random House Audio Go
A fascinating biography extensively and thoroughly researched about a fascinating family spanning both generations from the 18th centrury to present times and countries and cities from Odessa in Russia to Paris, Vienna Tokyo ending the journey in the United Kingdom.
The story is exceedingly well narrated.
The concept of following objects through time worked so well. If you love a bit of art history told with the emphasis on history not technique you will enjoy the journey.
There were many moments that I still reflect upon but returning to find the objects after WWII via the loyal maid was very touching. Also finding out about his favourite uncle's life.
Not sure as I think I would have loved the book just as much if I'd read it, but he does do the brilliant writing justice.
Definitely in the top 10.
I don't know because I didn't experience the physical book.
The addition of the podcast interview at the end was really interesting and a nice touch.
"fabric artist and quilter"
I was recommended to read this book and was reluctant to do so as I knew that as the history of a jewish family in Europe it would, at some point, lead to the Holocaust (its a period of history that I find too distressing and as I have a heart condition its probably best I don't go there) but the nature of the story intrigued me - tracing the family history thru the possession of a set of Japanese carvings is not a usual means of telling a family's history.
The subplot of the book is one of belonging or rather not belonging or fitting in. The family in book were originally from Odessa and were migrants in Vienna and Paris and as such never quite were completely assimilated - little things kept them different and still tied to Odessa. Anyone who has themselves migrated to a new country knows and can rediscover that feeling of not entirely belonging to our adopted country as it is described in this book. Its so beautifully written and had me in tears.
Edmund de Waal has produced a book that is breathtaking, poignant, beautiful, rich and full of meaning. I can't recommend this book high enough. Its a beauty.
Almost gave this up but it did improve and I am glad I persevered.
The book is historical, it introduced me to 'netsuke' and led on to do some research on these delightful carvings. The authors descriptions of buildings makes one look at buildings in a different way.
. Very interesting interview with author at end.
I liked the sense of history. Also learning about a different times and places was interesting
It is non-fiction. I wondered if it would have been more enjoyable as a novel. The story follows the objects rather than the people and sometimes I wanted to know more about the people.
de Waal says "I was a potter who wrote books no one read"and "the moment when I knew I could write was with the Vienna chapters."
In the early part of this book,I asked whether I wanted to hear this detailed account of his forebears in Paris in the 1800s and these netsuke that they acquired but it was being so well read I was carried along into this moving & poignant account of the path through Paris to Vienna and then expulsion in World War 2 by Hitler . This path takes these netsuke to Japan and then to their now life with de Waal's family in England.Go with them.
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