The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

Edmund De Waal

The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance
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The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

Edmund De Waal

264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie’s Tokyo apartment. When he later inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined.

From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siecle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the netsuke’s journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.

‘You have in your hands a masterpiece’ Frances Wilson, Sunday Times.

‘The most brilliant book I’ve read for years… A rich tale of the pleasure and pains of what it is to be human’ Bettany Hughes, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year.

‘A complex and beautiful book’ Diana Athill.


The title describes one of the netsuke pieces in a collection belonging to the author’s family – a collection that is a marker for the remarkable family history that the book traces, from Odessa to Vienna, Paris, Tunbridge Wells, America and Japan, over about 150 years.

The story of the netsuke begins in the Paris of the impressionists, with the cultivated Charles Ephrussi, youngest son of a family from Odessa, newly very wealthy from grain exporting. A supporter and collector of the impressionists and things Japanese (hence the netsuke), Charles became editor of the Gazette (a must-have art magazine of the period), and once had Marcel Proust as his secretary. As the author found himself immersed in many literary side-trips, so does the reader: Proust is still on my ‘to read’ list, and there is a new book on Berthe Morisot – an artist Charles loved, whose work was among his first purchases. De Waal builds a sense of the period through original texts and quotes, and of what it was like to be a young, educated and wealthy patron in such a fascinating environment. The netsuke move as a wedding gift to another Ephrussi in Vienna – this part of the family are a bit more conservative – but this is the Vienna of Robert Musil, Freud, Schnitzler, Joseph Roth, Klimt, Schiele and the Wiener Werkstatte (wonderfully covered in Vienna 1900 and the Heroes of Modernism).

For me, the heart of the book is the story of this family, and the unique and important perspectives entailed – from the Dreyfuss Affair to the horrors of World War II. The parallel story is of anti-Semitism and the strength of individuals in the face of extreme adversity. A moving and beautiful book.

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