I really enjoyed this memoir. And found it making me think about the layers of history all around us . . . something I'm addressing in my current proposal (not quite ready for Herself but close.)
Anyway, here's an excellent review of the book for background and then I'll add my thoughts below... see you there.
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
Washington Post review
I love netsukes and posted about my very small collection here. And the history of the Ephrussi's collection provides the framework for this fascinating book. But the real story, as far as I was concerned, was what happened to this this wealthy, cultured family when the Nazis arrived and how quickly what had always been an undercurrent of ant-Semiticism became a tidal wave of terror.
I spend a little time in Vienna every day, thanks to Merisis's beautiful Vienna for Beginners
I love Merisi's photos of Vienna's gorgeous buildings, pastel against the blue skies, and the many architectural statues and gilded ornaments. It may be the most beautiful city in the world.
But after this book, I'll always be reminded of a terrible period in Vienna's history.
Almost every country has ugly things in their past -- the South's gracious antebellum plantations hide the brutal fact of slavery behind their romantic exteriors and the spear points I find in our fields remind me that this land belonged to the Cherokee before they were "removed."
The pink building pictured here is a casino in Vienna -- formerly the Palais Ephrussi -- the home of the netsuke collection and the Ephrussi family . . . before the Jews were removed.
(All of the pictures are from the internet -- mostly from Wikipedia.)