The Hare with Amber Eyes

  • by Edmund de Waal
  • Narrated by Michael Maloney
  • 10 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.

More

See More Like This

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A vagabond through history, clutching a tiny carvi

"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.
Read full review

- Amazon Customer

An Amazing Read

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.
Read full review

- Kathryn

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-14-2011
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio