The hare with amber eyes by Edmund De Waal

There are occasions when you keep stumbling into a title hearing about here and there and maybe not having a inital spark to read it well this is one such book .In the period Just before christmas I heard Edmund on a radio and interviewed on the book show on sky arts ,and I warmed to this bio ? well it is a bio of the objects in it .Well Edmund De Waal is an English Ceramic artist that was train in Japan and winner of prizes for his ceramics , inherited a family collection of Nettsuke (craved ivory or bone pieces that were used to secure pouches from belts in 17th Japan )   from an uncle that he stayed with whilst he trained in his youth at the Mejiro studio in Tokyo .

So the book opens with Edmund getting these Nettsuke from His uncle Iggie a wonderful man he spent time with whilst training in Japan in his youth .He Knows A little of the 264 Nettsukes history from his uncle but decides to trace where they went and who owned them for the last 140 years from the 1870’s .He discovers the person that brought them a distant relative Charles Ephrussi a rich Jewish banker that lived in Paris .This man was in love with Japanese art that was the Vogue of the time ,Charles enjoyed connecting with people in the world of art and literature Knowing Proust Degas and Renoir .a man who lived comfortably but near the end of his time things were turning against the Jewish people in France ,the Nettsuke then move on to the turn of the century coffee houses society of Vienna This is the grand children of Charles story of vienna the rise of anti semitic feeling but also the blossoming of Vienna pre world war one with people like Freud and Klimt in the background .

In March 1899 , Charles’s generous wedding gift for Viktor and Emmy is carefully grated up and taken from the Avenue d’lena ,leaving the golden carpet ,the empire fauteulis and the Moreaus .It travels across Europe and is delivered to the Palais Ephrussi in Vienna on the corner of the Ringstrasse and the schottengasse .

The Nettsuke leave Charles possession the original owner and travel to Vienna to start a new tale .

the Nettsuke of the title

The book is full of love and insight into being Jewish in Europe at this time which Has been at times hard  the Nettsuke arrive in England Just before the war with Viktor then end up back home so to speak in Japan with Edmund uncle before arriving in his possession .Well what can I say about this book other than you should read it ,I was touch in many ways ,I always wonder what stories objects I ve been given via family have ,my grandfather was an Antique dealer and restorer so I grew up looking and sometimes touching unusual items like these nettsukes in this modern age the wonderment these intrigue items can give is pleasing I have a small craved elephant in ivory and its feel and look priceless objects like this are so rarely made nowadays but as De Waal testifies can over time and place produce wonderful stories . This book has a timeless feel even thou it has just been written which is a real achievement from a first time writer ,It also just won the Costa book prize for Biography ,which it richly deserved .

January 2011
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