Hare with the Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal – Reviewed

A biography encompassing 5 generations of family history through a compelling period of European war, with a surprising link of small Japanese carvings.  


Adventures of a London Kiwi Hare with the amber eyes


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, this collection of 264 (of the wealthy Jewish Ephrussi family) somehow managed to survive many years of upheaval and wars – at one point during the Holocaust tucked away inside a mattress by a loyal maid.



Netsuke are miniature sculptures that were invented in 17th-century Japan to serve a practical function (the two Japanese characters ne+tsuke mean “root” and “to attach”). Traditional Japanese garments—robes called kosode and kimono—had no pockets. Their solution was to place such objects in containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes’ sashes (obi). The fastener that secured the cord at the top of the sash was a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke. They became so much more – check out more of the fascinating background via Sequins and Cherry Blossoms.



Most of the netsuke are around an 1-3 inches in size, and developing from their practical use became a vehicle for artistic expression made by craftsmen out of wood, ivory and other hard materials. (For you London readers, both the British Museum and V&A have a wonderful collection).


“How objects are handed on is all about story-telling.”


Edmund de Waal himself is a well-known British ceramicist, and the search through the history of his family takes him over two years, to several countries and on a striking personal journey. Just what do these momentos mean?


This quote by the author sums up the book quite neatly really, The author set himself a challenge. He refused to produce a straightforward history: “It could write itself, I think, this kind of story. A few stitched-together wistful anecdotes, more about the Orient-Express, of course, a bit of wandering around Prague or somewhere equally photogenic, some clippings from Google on ballrooms in the Belle Epoque. It would come out as nostalgic. And thin.”

The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance
is a striking novel; perfect for those with a historical or art leaning and a moving, well-researched story.

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