The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

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  • Edmund De Waal
  • Asian
  • Jewish
  • Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: At the heart of Edmund de Waal's strange and graceful family memoir, The Hare
    with Amber Eyes, is a one-of-a-kind inherited collection of ornamental Japanese carvings known as netsuke. The netsuke
    are tiny and tactile--they sit in the palm of your hand--and de Waal is drawn to them as "small, tough explosions of
    exactitude." He's also drawn to the story behind them, and for years he put aside his own work as a world-renowned
    potter and curator to uncover the rich and tragic family history of which the carvings are one of the few concrete
    legacies. De Waal's family was the Ephrussis, wealthy Jewish grain traders who branched out from Russia across the
    capitals of Europe before seeing their empire destroyed by the Nazis. Beginning with his art connoisseur ancestor
    Charles (a model for Proust's Swann), who acquired the netsuke during the European rage for Japonisme, de Waal traces
    the collection from Japan to Europe--where they were saved from the brutal bureaucracy of the Nazi Anschluss in the
    pockets of a family servant--and back to Japan and Europe again. Throughout, he writes with a tough, funny, and elegant
    attention to detail and personality that does full justice to the exactitude of the little carvings that first roused
    his curiosity. --Tom Nissley