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The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

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Overview

An Economist Book of the Year       

Costa Book Award Winner for Biography    

Galaxy National Book Award Winner (New Writer of the Year Award)

Edmund de Waal is a world-famous ceramicist. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots—which are then sold, collected, and handed on—he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. When he inherited a ...

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Overview

An Economist Book of the Year       

Costa Book Award Winner for Biography    

Galaxy National Book Award Winner (New Writer of the Year Award)

Edmund de Waal is a world-famous ceramicist. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots—which are then sold, collected, and handed on—he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive.

And so begins this extraordinarily moving memoir and detective story as de Waal discovers both the story of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. A nineteenth-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothchilds. Yet by the end of the World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In 1938, the Nazis annexed Austria. Systematically, they began to strip the Jews of their property, confiscating paintings, books, jewelry, and objets d'art. Everything of beauty and value was lost to these people and their families. But thanks to a clever maidservant, who each day squirreled away a few pieces of Japanese netsuke in her apron pockets, a collection of intricately carved ivory was miraculously saved for de Waal's family.

This act of loyalty is just one of the intriguing tales involving an antique netsuke collection that has been in de Waal's family since the 1870s, and through which he traces his family history as it passed from person to person, across two continents and five generations. Along the way, readers meet de Waal's colorful ancestors, like Charles Ephrussi of Paris: art connoisseur, friend to impressionist painters, and the model for Proust's character Swann in Remembrance of Things Past. A natural researcher, de Waal provides tantalizing glimpses into the life of each owner, with rich details about the art, architecture, fashion, literature, celebrities, and politics of the times.

Written in a tender, poignant voice, The Hare with Amber Eyes is an exquisite history of an Old World family, of the society in which they lived, and of their beloved objects. It's a tale of art and wealth, of survival and the bittersweet memories of family heirlooms lost and found.

From the Publisher
“A family memoir written with a grace and modesty that almost belie the sweep of its contents: Proust, Rilke, Japanese art, the rue de Monceau, Vienna during the Second World War. The most enchanting history lesson imaginable.” —The New Yorker

 “An extraordinary history...A wondrous book, as lustrous and exquisitely crafted as the netsuke at its heart.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“A lovely, gripping book.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Enthralling . . . [de Waal’s] essayistic exploration of his family’s past pointedly avoids any sentimentality . . . The Hare with Amber Eyes belongs on the same shelf with Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

“This is a book Sebald would have loved.” —The Irish Times

“At one level [Edmund de Waal] writes in vivid detail of how the fortunes were used to establish the Ephrussis’ lavish lives and high positions in Paris and Vienna society. And, as Jews, of their vulnerability: the Paris family shaken by turn-of-the century anti-Semitism surging out of the Dreyfus affair; the Vienna branch utterly destroyed in Hitler’s 1937 Anschluss . . . At a deeper level, though, Hare is about something more, just as Marcel Proust’s masterpiece was about something more than the trappings of high society. As with Remembrance of Things Past, it uses the grandeur to light up interior matters: aspirations, passions, their passing; all in a duel, and a duet, of elegy and irony.” —Richard Eder, The Boston Globe

“Absorbing . . . In this book about people who defined themselves by the objects they owned, de Waal demonstrates that human stories are more powerful than even the greatest works of art.” —Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

“Delicately constructed and wonderfully nuanced . . . There are many family memoirs whose stories are as enticing as Edmund de Waal’s. There are few, though, whose raw material has been crafted into quite such an engrossing and exquisitely written book as The Hare with Amber Eyes . . . One of the great triumphs of The Hare with Amber Eyes . . . is not just the assiduous way in which de Waal interrogates his raw evidence—scattered articles and newspaper cuttings, old paintings, forgotten buildings—but the way he summons up different eras so evocatively . . . [De Waal] is, too, as you would expect of a potter, wonderfully tactile in his investigations, interrogating the physical feel of the Ephrussis’ different buildings, touching surfaces, assessing materials. This sensuality transmits itself also to his prose, which is beautiful to read—lithe and precise, crisp and delicate. The result is a memoir of the very first rank, one full of grace, economy, and extraordinary emotion.” —Andrew Holgate, The Barnes & Noble Review

“Remarkable . . . To be handed a story as durable and exquisitely crafted as this is a rare pleasure . . . Like the netsuke themselves, this book is impossible to put down. You have in your hands a masterpiece.” —Frances Wilson, The Sunday Times (London)

“From a hard and vast archival mass of journals, memoirs, newspaper clippings and art-history books, Mr. de Waal has fashioned, stroke by minuscule stroke, a book as fresh with detail as if it had been written from life, and as full of beauty and whimsy as a netsuke from the hands of a master carver. Buy two copies of his book; keep one and give the other to your closest bookish friend.” —The Economist

“What a treat of a book! It projects an iridescent mirage that once was real, a pageant of exquisite fragility, an aesthetic passion somehow surviving the brutalities of history. Mr. de Waal’s nostalgia is tart, tactile, marvelously nuanced.”—Frederic Morton, author of A Nervous Splendor: Vienna, 1888/1889 and The Rothschilds: Portrait of a Dynasty

“A self-questioning, witty, sharply perceptive book . . . The Hare with Amber Eyes is rich in epiphanic moments . . . By writing objects into his family story [de Waal] has achieved something remarkable.” —Tanya Harrod, The Times Literary Supplement

“A beautiful and unusual book . . . [A] unique memoir of [de Waal’s] family . . . De Waal has a mystical ability to so inhabit the long-gone moment as to seem to suspend inexorable history, personal and impersonal . . .  A work that succeeds in several known genres: as family memoir, travel literature (de Waal’s Japan is the nearest thing to being there, and over decades), essays on migration and exile, on cultural misperceptions, and on de Waal's attempt to define his relationship with his own kaolin creations. His book is also a new genre, unnamed and maybe unnameable.” —Veronica Horwell, The Guardian

“Part family memoir, part Proustian confession, subtle, spare and elegant.” —Hilary Spurling, The Independent

“A marvelously absorbing synthesis of art history, detective story and memoir . . . A nimble history of one of the richest European families at the turn of the century . . . Remarkable.” —Kirkus Reviews

Michael Dirda
The Hare With Amber Eyes belongs on the same shelf with Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory, André Aciman's Out of Egypt, and Sybille Bedford's A Legacy. All four are wistful cantos of mutability, depictions of how even the lofty, beautiful and fabulously wealthy can crack and shatter as easily as Fabergé glass or Meissen porcelain—or, sometimes, be as tough and enduring as netsuke, those little Japanese figurines carved out of ivory or boxwood.
—The Washington Post
Megan Buskey
The author was apprenticed as a potter…and his aesthetic sensibility extends to language: there is much wit and dramatic instinct to relish in these pages. But the intelligence and creativity with which de Waal constructs a family history are what make this special book so supremely ­winning.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In this family history, de Waal, a potter and curator of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum, describes the experiences of his family, the Ephrussis, during the turmoil of the 20th century. Grain merchants in Odessa, various family members migrated to Vienna and Paris, becoming successful bankers. Secular Jews, they sought assimilation in a period of virulent anti-Semitism. In Paris, Charles Ephrussi purchased a large collection of Japanese netsuke, tiny hand-carved figures including a hare with amber eyes. The collection passed to Viktor Ephrussi in Vienna and became the family's greatest legacy. Loyal citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Vienna Ephrussis were devastated by the outcome of WWI and were later driven from their home by the imposition of Nazi rule over Austria. After WWII, they discovered that their maid, Anna, had preserved the netsuke collection, which Ignace Ephrussi inherited, and he settled in postwar Japan. Today, the netsuke reside with de Waal (descended from the family's Vienna branch) and serve as the embodiment of his family history. A somewhat rambling narrative with special appeal to art historians, this account is nonetheless rich in drama and valuable anecdote. 20 b&w illus. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
A nimble history of one of the richest European families at the turn of the century. De Waal, a notable London potter, is a descendent of the wealthy Ephrussi family. He seized on an inherited collection of Japanese netsuke-small decorative figures made out of wood or ivory-and traced its ownership down the family line, from patriarch Charles Ephrussi, originally from Odessa, to Great-Uncle Iggie, of Tokyo, who left the 264 elegant figures to the author upon his death in 1993. The family's fabulous wealth derived from the grain-trading business, operating between Paris and Vienna. Charles, who assembled the collection, was a dandyish art collector who settled in Paris at the age of 21, wrote art criticism and a book on Durer and patronized the early Impressionists. He was quite possibly the real-life character on whom Proust modeled his Charles Swann. Subsequently, the netsuke was given to Charles's cousin Viktor on the occasion of his wedding in 1899-just at the height of the Dreyfus Affair, when French anti-Semitism burst forth in full force-and the collection passed to Vienna, where the family resided at the surpassingly beautiful Ephrussi Palais on the Ringstrasse. Anti-Jewish feeling pervaded all facets of their lives, and two world wars wreaked havoc on the Ephrussi fortune. Eventually the netsuke was saved from the rapacious hands of the Nazis by a servant who stuffed it in her mattress. De Waal keeps a pleasantly ironic tone throughout this remarkable journey and nicely handles the clutter of objects and relatives. The roster of characters is daunting at first, but this narrative proves a marvelously absorbing synthesis of art history, detective story and memoir. Agent: Felicity Bryan/Felicity Bryan Agency
The Barnes & Noble Review

There are many family memoirs whose stories are as enticing as Edmund de Waal's. There are few, though, whose raw material has been crafted into quite such an engrossing and exquisitely written book as The Hare with Amber Eyes.

Edmund de Waal is a celebrated British ceramicist whose family on his grandmother's side, the Ephrussi, were once mentioned in the same breath as the Rothschilds. Jewish grain exporters from Odessa, the Ephrussis had, by the middle of the 19th century, become titans of European finance; at their height, between the 1870s and the early 1900s, they dealt with governments, archdukes, and royalty, had vast town houses in Paris and on Vienna's Ringstrasse, and possessed art collections that would put many a museum to shame. By the 1940s, though, the houses had gone, the art had been broken up, and the different family members had either escaped into exile or been herded into concentration camps. The Hare with Amber Eyes is a delicately constructed and wonderfully nuanced investigation of that bitter decline, and of the traces of the Ephrussis' lives that still linger in the physical fabric of the world around him.

De Waal's memories of his grandmother's family are scattered -- just a few anecdotes handed down from his parents, and a few forgotten books. What binds him most forcefully to his forebears is a group of 264 wondrously delicate Japanese figurines, netsuki, which he inherited from his great uncle Iggie and which have been in the family since they were bought in the 1870s by Charles Ephrussi, a fabulously urbane cousin of his great grandfather. Beautifully crafted, intensely characterful, these objects seem to de Waal to hold within their hypnotically tactile surfaces great and enticing secrets. Tracing their journey across five generations, he finds himself plotting his way through great swathes of modern European culture and history, from Marcel Proust and Edmund de Goncourt, via Joseph Roth, to the Anschluss, the Second World War, and beyond.

De Waal's story begins with Charles, an aesthete and collector who amassed a large and impressive collection of Impressionist paintings in 1880s Paris. Arriving in the city as a callow 21-year-old, Charles quickly established himself in the haute monde, became a familiar (and hated) figure to the socialite diarist de Goncourt, and employed Proust as his secretary (becoming in the process one of the models for Charles Swann in A la recherche du temps perdu). Charles it was who, in the flush of enthusiasm for all things Japanese that swept Paris in the 1870s, purchased the netsuki that now sit in de Waal's house in south London.

One of the great triumphs of The Hare with Amber Eyes (the title is a description of one of the netsuki) is not just the assiduous way in which de Waal interrogates his raw evidence -- scattered articles and newspaper cuttings, old paintings, forgotten buildings -- but the way he summons up different eras so evocatively. In Paris, we walk down Baron Haussmann's newly minted streets, and enter the febrile world of high-society gossip. We encounter, too, the anti-Semitism that riddled Parisian society, and listen to the poisonous whispers that would grow in volume during the Dreyfus case -- "this incessant hum of vilification," says de Waal, that will see the hateful Degas break off contact with Ephrussi, and Renoir become "actively hostile to Charles and his 'Jew art.'"

Pungent as this prejudice is in 1890s Paris, its stench becomes rank in turn-of-the-century Vienna, where de Waal travels next in pursuit of his netsuki, after they are given by Charles as a wedding present to his cousin Viktor. Here, the hatred is more naked, the attempts at assimilation by the Jewish elite more intense. As the sad and frustrated Viktor and his precocious wife Emmy negotiate their way round high society, the world turns against them. After the 1938 Anschluss that united Austria with Nazi Germany, and in one of the book's most devastating passages, they have their possessions confiscated and their house stripped from them for use by the Gestapo. The Ephrussi bank is taken away and greedily snapped up by Viktor's Aryan colleague of 28 years.

De Waal does not begin his book as a screed about anti-Semitism; the subject seems to sneak up on the narrative almost unawares, until it sweeps the author away, leaving him at one point crying tears of frustration and rage. Throughout, as he travels around Europe and onwards to Japan in search of the netsuki, he is careful not to submit to any sort of glib nostalgia, or swamp us with extraneous family research. He is, too, as you would expect of a potter, wonderfully tactile in his investigations, interrogating the physical feel of the Ephrussis' different buildings, touching surfaces, assessing materials. This sensuality transmits itself also to his prose, which is beautiful to read -- lithe and precise, crisp and delicate. The result is a memoir of the very first rank, one full of grace, economy, and extraordinary emotion.

--Andrew Holgate

Andrew Holgate is Literary Editor of The Sunday Times in London.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312569372
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 8/2/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 34,105
  • Product dimensions: 8.02 (w) x 5.60 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Edmund de Waal’s porcelain has been displayed in many museum collections around the world, and he has recently made an installation for the dome of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He was apprenticed as a potter, studied in Japan, and studied English at Cambridge. He is Professor of Ceramics at the University of Westminster and lives in London with his family.

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Read an Excerpt

The Hare with Amber Eyes

 

1. LE WEST END

One sunny April day I set out to find Charles. Rue de Monceau is a long Parisian street bisected by the grand boulevard Malesherbes that charges off towards the boulevard Pereire. It is a hill of golden stone houses, a series of hotels playing discreetly on neoclassical themes, each a minor Florentine palace with heavily rusticated ground floors and an array of heads, caryatids and cartouches. Number 81 rue de Monceau, the Hôtel Ephrussi, where my netsuke start their journey, is near the top of the hill. I pass the headquarters of Christian Lacroix and then, next door, there it is. It is now, rather crushingly, an office for medical insurance.

It is utterly beautiful. As a boy I used to draw buildings like this, spending afternoons carefully inking in shadows so that you could see the rise and fall of the depth of the windows and pillars. There is something musical in this kind of elevation. You take classical elements and try to bring them into rhythmic life: four Corinthian pilasters rising up to pace the façade, four massive stone urns on the parapet, five storeys high, eight windows wide. The street level is made up of great blocks of stone worked to look as if they have been weathered. I walk past a couple of times and, on the third, notice that there is the double back-to-back E of the Ephrussi family incorporated into the metal grilles over the street windows, the tendrils of the letters reaching into the spaces of the oval. It is barely there. I try to work out this rectitude and what it says about their confidence. I duck through the passageway to a courtyard, then through another arch to a stable block of red brick with servants’ quarters above; a pleasing diminuendo of materials and textures.

A delivery man carries boxes of Speedy-Go Pizza into the medical insurers. The door into the entrance hall is open. I walk into the hall, its staircase curling up like a coil of smoke through the whole house, black cast iron and gold filigree stretching up to a lantern at the top. There is a marble urn in a deep niche, chequerboard marble tiles. Executives are coming down the stairs, heels hard on marble, and I retreat in embarrassment. How can I start to explain this idiotic quest? I stand in the street and watch the house and take some photographs, apologetic Parisians ducking past me. House-watching is an art. You have to develop a way of seeing how a building sits in its landscape or streetscape. You have to discover how much room it takes up in the world, how much of the world it displaces. Number 81, for instance, is a house that cannily disappears into its neighbours: there are other houses that are grander, some are plainer, but few are more discreet.

I look up at the second-floor windows where Charles had his suite of rooms, some of which looked across the street to the more robustly classical house opposite, some across the courtyard into a busy roofscape of urns and gables and chimneypots. He had an antechamber, two salons – one of which he turned into his study – a dining-room, two bedrooms and a ‘petite’. I try to work it out; he and his older brother Ignace must have had neighbouring apartments on this floor, their elder brother Jules and their widowed mother Mina below, with the higher ceilings and grander windows and the balconies on which, on this April morning, there are now some rather leggy red geraniums in plastic pots. The courtyard of the house was glazed, according to the city records, though all that glass is long gone. And there were five horses and three carriages in these stables which are now a perfect bijou house. I wonder if that number of horses was appropriate for a large and social family wanting to make the right kind of impression.

It is a huge house, but the three brothers must have met every day on those black-and-gold winding stairs, or heard each other as the noise of the carriage being readied in the courtyard echoed from the glazed canopy. Or encountered friends going past their door on the way up to an apartment above. They must have developed a way of not seeing each other, and not hearing each other, too: to live so close to your family takes some doing, I think, reflecting on my own brothers. They must have got on well. Perhaps they had no choice in the matter. Paris was work, after all.

The Hôtel Ephrussi was a family house, but it was also the Parisian headquarters of a family in its ascendancy. It had its counterpart in Vienna, the vast Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse. Both the Parisian and Viennese buildings share a sense of drama, of a public face to the world. They were both built in 1871 in new and fashionable areas: the rue de Monceau and the Ringstrasse were so of-the-minute that they were unfinished, untidy, loud and dusty building sites. They were still spaces that were inventing themselves, competitive with the older parts of town with their narrower streets, and spikily arriviste.

If this particular house in this particular streetscape seems a little stagey, it is because it is a staging of intent. These houses in Paris and Vienna were part of a family plan: the Ephrussi family was ‘doing a Rothschild’. Just as the Rothschilds had sent their sons and daughters out from Frankfurt at the start of the nineteenth century to colonise European capital cities, so the Abraham of my family, Charles Joachim Ephrussi, had masterminded this expansion from Odessa in the 1850s. A true patriarch, he had two sons from his first marriage, Ignace and Léon. And then when he remarried at fifty he had continued producing children: two more sons, Michel and Maurice, and two daughters, Thérèse and Marie. All of these six children were to be deployed as financiers or married into suitable Jewish dynasties.

Odessa was a city within the Pale of Settlement, the area on the western borders of imperial Russia in which Jews were allowed to live. It was famous for its rabbinical schools and synagogues, rich in literature and music, a magnet for the impoverished Jewish shtetls of Galicia. It was also a city that doubled its population of Jews and Greeks and Russians every decade, a polyglot city full of speculation and traders, the docks full of intrigues and spies, a city on the make. Charles Joachim Ephrussi had transformed a small grain-trading business into a huge enterprise by cornering the market in buying wheat. He bought the grain from the middlemen who transported it on carts along the heavily rutted roads from the rich black soil of the Ukrainian wheat fields, the greatest wheat fields in the world, into the port of Odessa. Here the grain was stored in his warehouses before being exported across the Black Sea, up the Danube, across the Mediterranean.

By 1860 the family had become the greatest grain-exporters in the world. In Paris, James de Rothschild was known as the le Roi des Juifs, the King of the Jews. The Ephrussi were les Rois de Blé, the Kings of Grain. They were Jews with their own coat of arms: an ear of corn and a heraldic boat with three masts and full sails. Their motto, Quod honestum, unfurled below the ship: We are above reproach. You can trust us.

The masterplan was to build on this network of contacts and finance huge capital projects: bridges across the Danube, railways across Russia and across France, docks and canals. Ephrussi et Cie would change from being a very successful commodity trading house into an international finance house. It would become a bank. And each helpful deal struck with a government, each venture with an impoverished archduke, each client drawn into serious obligation with the family would be a step towards even greater respectability, a step further from those wagons of wheat creaking in from the Ukraine.

In 1857 the two elder sons and their families were sent out from Odessa to Vienna, the capital city of the sprawling Hapsburg Empire. They bought a huge house in the city centre, and for ten years this was home to a shifting population of grandparents, children and grandchildren as the family moved backwards and forwards between the two cities. One of the sons, my great-great-grandfather Ignace, was tasked with handling Ephrussi business in the Austro-Hungarian Empire from this Vienna base. Paris came next: Léon, the older son, was tasked with establishing the family and business here.

I’m standing outside Léon’s outpost on a honey-coloured hill in the 8th arrondissement. Actually I am leaning against the house opposite and thinking of that fiercely hot summer of 1871 when they arrived from Vienna to this newly built, golden mansion. It was a city still in trauma. The siege by the Prussian army had only ended a few months before with the defeat of France and the declaration of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The new Third Republic was shaky, assailed by communards on the street and by factionalism in government.

The Hôtel Ephrussi in the rue de Monceau

Their house may have been finished, but all the neighbouring buildings were still under construction. The plasterers had only just left, the gilders were lying uncomfortably on the shallow stairs burnishing the finials on the handrail. Furniture, pictures, crates of crockery are shifted slowly up to their apartments. There is noise inside and noise outside, and all the windows are open onto the street. Léon is unwell with a heart complaint. And the family have a terrible start to their life in this beautiful street. Betty, the youngest of Léon and Mina’s four children, married to a young Jewish banker of unimpeachable suitability, dies within weeks of giving birth to a daughter, Fanny. They have to build a family tomb in the Jewish section of the cemetery in Montmartre in their newly adopted city. It is Gothic, large enough for the whole clan, a way of making it clear that they are staying here, whatever is going to happen. I finally find it. The gates are gone and it has caught drifts of autumn’s chestnut leaves.

This hill was the perfect setting for the Ephrussi family. Just as the Ringstrasse in Vienna, where the other half of the family lives, was acerbically known as ‘Zionstrasse’, so Jewish money was a key denominator of life here in the rue de Monceau. The area was developed in the 1860s by Isaac and Emile Pereire, two Sephardic brothers who had made their fortunes as financiers, railroad-builders and property magnates, creating colossal developments of hotels and department stores. They acquired the plaine Monceau, a large nondescript area that was originally beyond the city limits, and set to work developing houses for the burgeoning financial and commercial elite, an appropriate landscape for the newly arrived Jewish families from Russia and the Levant. These streets became a virtual colony, a complex of intermarriage, obligation and religious sympathy.

The Pereires relandscaped the existing eighteenth-century park in order to improve the views of the new houses around it. New cast-iron gates with gilded emblems of the Pereires’ activities now led into it. There was an attempt to call the area around the parc Monceau Le West End. If you are asked where the boulevard Malesherbes leads, a contemporary journalist wrote, ‘answer boldly: to Le West End…One could give it a French name, but that would be vulgar; an English name was far more fashionable.’ This was the park in which, according to a waspish journalist, you could watch ‘the great dames of the noble Faubourg…the female “illustrations” of “La Haute Finance” and “La Haute Colonie Israélite” promenade’. The park had sinuous paths and flowerbeds in the new English style with displays of colourful annuals that had to be constantly renewed, far removed from the grey, clipped formalities of the Tuileries.

As I walk down the hill from the Hôtel Ephrussi at what I consider to be a good flaneurial pace, slower than usual, weaving from one side of the road to the other to check on details of the mouldings of windows, I’m conscious that many of the houses I pass have these stories of reinvention embedded in them. Almost everyone who built them started somewhere else.

Ten houses down from the Ephrussi household, at number 61, is the house of Abraham de Camondo, with his brother Nissim at 63 and their sister Rebecca over the street at number 60. The Camondos, Jewish financiers like the Ephrussi, had come to Paris from Constantinople by way of Venice. The banker Henri Cernuschi, a plutocratic supporter of the Paris Commune, had come to Paris from Italy and lived in chilly magnificence with his Japanese treasures on the edge of the park. At number 55 is the Hôtel Cattaui, home to a family of Jewish bankers from Egypt. At number 43 is the palace of Adolphe de Rothschild, acquired from Eugène Pereire and rebuilt with a glass-roofed exhibition room for his Renaissance art collection.

But nothing compares to the mansion built by the chocolate magnate Émile-Justin Menier. It was a building so splendidly excessive, so eclectic in its garnished decorations, glimpsed above its high walls, that Zola’s description of it as ‘an opulent bastard of every style’ still seems about right. In his dark novel of 1872, La curée, Saccard – a rapacious Jewish property magnate – lives here on the rue de Monceau. You feel this street as the family move in: it is a street of Jews, a street full of people on display in their lavish golden houses. Monceau is slang in Paris for nouveau riche, newly arrived.

This is the world in which my netsuke first settled. On this street down the hill I feel this play between discretion and opulence, a sort of breathing-in and breathing-out of invisibility and visibility.

Charles Ephrussi was twenty-one when he came to live here. Paris was being planted with trees, and wide pavements were taking the place of the cramped interstices of the old city. There had been fifteen years of constant demolition and rebuilding under the direction of Baron Haussmann, the civic planner. He had razed medieval streets and created new parks and new boulevards. Vistas were opened up with extraordinary velocity.

If you want to taste this moment, taste the dust sweeping along the newly paved avenues and across the bridges, look at two paintings of Gustave Caillebotte. Caillebotte, a few months older than Charles, lived around the corner from the Ephrussi family in another grand hotel. You see in his Le pont de l’Europe a young man, well dressed in his grey overcoat and black top hat, maybe the artist, walking over the bridge along the generous pavement. He is two steps ahead of a young woman in a dress of sedate frills carrying a parasol. The sun is out. There is the glare of newly dressed stone. A dog passes by. A workman leans over the bridge. It is like the start of the world: a litany of perfect movements and shadows. Everyone, including the dog, knows what they are doing.

Gustave Caillebotte, Le pont de l’Europe, 1876

The streets of Paris have a calmness to them: clean stone façades, rhythmic detailing of balconies, newly planted lime trees appear in his painting Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, shown in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. Here Caillebotte’s brother stands at the open window of their family apartment looking out onto the intersection of the rue de Monceau’s neighbouring streets. He stands with his hands in his pockets, well dressed and self-assured, with his life before him and a plush armchair behind him.

Everything is possible.

This could be the young Charles. He was born in Odessa and spends the first ten years of his life in a yellow-stuccoed palais on the edge of a dusty square fringed with chestnut trees. If he climbs to the attics of the house he can see all the way across the masts of the ships in the port to the sea. His grandfather occupies a whole floor and all the space. The bank is next door. He cannot move along the promenade without someone stopping his grandfather or father or uncles to ask them for information, a favour, a kopek, something. He learns, without knowing it, that to move in public means a series of encounters and avoidances; how to give money to beggars and pedlars, how to greet acquaintances without stopping.

Then Charles moves to Vienna, living there for the next decade with his parents, his siblings, his uncle Ignace and glacial aunt Émilie, and his three cousins – Stefan (haughty), Anna (acerbic) and the little boy Viktor. A tutor comes each morning. They learn their languages: Latin, Greek, German and English. They are always to speak French at home, and are allowed to use Russian amongst themselves, but must not be caught speaking the Yiddish that they picked up in the courtyards in Odessa. All these cousins can start a sentence in one language and finish it in another. They need these languages, as the family travels to Odessa, to St Petersburg, to Berlin and Frankfurt and Paris. They also need these languages as they are denominators of class. With languages, you can move from one social situation to another. With languages, you are at home anywhere.

They visit Breughel’s Hunters in the Snow with its patchwork of dogs busy on the ridge. They open the cabinets of drawings in the Albertina, the watercolours by Dürer of the trembling hare, the outstretched wing of a lapidary bird. They learn to ride in the Prater. The boys are taught to fence and all the cousins take dance lessons. All the cousins dance well. Charles, at eighteen, has a family nickname, le Polonais, the Pole, the waltzing boy.

It is in Vienna that the oldest boys, Jules, Ignace and Stefan, are taken to the offices off the Ringstrasse on the Schottenbastei. It is a forbidding building. This is where the Ephrussi conduct business. The boys are told to sit quietly as shipments of grain are discussed and percentages on stock are queried. There are new possibilities in oil in Baku and gold near Lake Baikal. Clerks scurry. This is where they are blooded in the sheer scale of what will be theirs, taught the catechism of profit from the endless columns in the ledgers.

This is when Charles sits with his youngest cousin Viktor and draws Laocoön and the snakes, the statue he loved in Odessa, making the coils extra specially tight around muscly shoulders to impress the boy. It takes a long time to draw each of those snakes well. He sketches what he has seen in the Albertina. He sketches the servants. And he talks to his parents’ friends about their pictures. It is always pleasing to have your paintings discussed by such a knowledgeable young man.

And then at last there is the long-planned move to Paris. Charles is good-looking, slightly built with a neatly trimmed dark beard, which has a haze of red in particular lights. He has an Ephrussi nose, large and beaked, and the high forehead of all the cousins. His eyes are dark grey and alive, and he is charming. You see how well dressed he is, with his cravat beautifully folded, and then you hear him talk: he is as good a talker as a dancer.

Charles is free to do what he wants.

I want to think this is because he was the youngest son and the third son and, as in all good children’s stories, it is always the third son who gets to leave home and go adventuring – pure projection, as I am a third son. But I suspect that the family know this boy is not cut out for the life of the Bourse. His uncles Michel and Maurice have moved to Paris: perhaps there were enough sons for the offices of Ephrussi et Cie at 45 rue de l’Arcade not to miss this pleasant bookish one, with his habit of withdrawing when money comes up and that aptitude for losing himself in conversation.

Charles has his new apartment in the family house, gilded and clean, and empty. He has somewhere to come back to, a new house on a newly paved Parisian hill. He has languages, he has money and he has time. So now he sets off wandering. Like a well-brought-up young man, Charles goes south. He goes to Italy.

 

Copyright © 2010 by Edmund de Waal

All rights reserved

Originally published in 2010 by Chatto & Windus, Great Britain,

as The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

Published in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Table of Contents

Family Tree xii

Prologue 1

Part 1 Paris 1871-1899

1 Le West End 21

2 Un lit de parade 33

3 'A mahout to guide her' 38

4 'So light, so soft to the touch' 44

5 A box of children's sweets 55

6 A fox with inlaid eyes, in wood 62

7 The yellow armchair 67

8 Monsieur Elstir's asparagus 72

9 Even Ephrussi fell for it 82

10 My small profits 90

11 A very brilliant five o'clock' 97

Part 2 Vienna 1899-1938

12 Die potemkinsche Stadt 111

13 Zionstrasse 121

14 History as it happens 126

15 'A large square box such as children draw' 138

16 'Liberty Hall' 145

17 The sweet young thing 154

18 Once upon a time 165

19 Types of the Old City 169

20 Heil Wien! Heil Berlin! 178

21 Literally zero 202

22 You must change your life 212

23 Eldorado 5-0050 222

Part 3 Vienna, Kövecses, Tunbridge Wells, Vienna 1938-1947

24 'An ideal spot for mass marches' 237

25 A never-to-be-repeated opportunity' 248

26 'Good for a single journey' 260

27 The tears of things 269

28 Anna's pocket 277

29 'All quite openly, publicly and legally' 284

Part 4 Tokyo 1947-2001

30 Takenoko 293

31 Kodachrome 301

32 Where did you get them? 312

33 The real Japan 319

34 On polish 327

Coda Tokyo, Odessa, London 2001-2009

35 Jiro 333

36 An astrolabe, a menzula, a globe 336

37 Yellow/Gold/Red 345

Acknowledgements 353

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First Chapter

The Hare with Amber Eyes

A Family's Century of Art and Loss
By Edmund de Waal

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2010 Edmund de Waal
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374105976

The Hare with Amber Eyes 1. LE WEST END

One sunny April day I set out to find Charles. Rue de Monceau is a long Parisian street bisected by the grand boulevard Malesherbes that charges off towards the boulevard Pereire. It is a hill of golden stone houses, a series of hotels playing discreetly on neoclassical themes, each a minor Florentine palace with heavily rusticated ground floors and an array of heads, caryatids and cartouches. Number 81 rue de Monceau, the Hôtel Ephrussi, where my netsuke start their journey, is near the top of the hill. I pass the headquarters of Christian Lacroix and then, next door, there it is. It is now, rather crushingly, an office for medical insurance.

It is utterly beautiful. As a boy I used to draw buildings like this, spending afternoons carefully inking in shadows so that you could see the rise and fall of the depth of the windows and pillars. There is something musical in this kind of elevation. You take classical elements and try to bring them into rhythmic life: four Corinthian pilasters rising up to pace the façade, four massive stone urns on the parapet, five storeys high, eight windows wide. The street level is made up of great blocks of stone worked to look as if they have been weathered. I walk past a couple of times and, on the third, notice that there is the double back-to-back E of the Ephrussi family incorporated into the metal grilles over the street windows, the tendrils of the letters reaching into the spaces of the oval. It is barely there. I try to work out this rectitude and what it says about their confidence. I duck through the passageway to a courtyard, then through another arch to a stable block of red brick with servants’ quarters above; a pleasing diminuendo of materials and textures.

A delivery man carries boxes of Speedy-Go Pizza into the medical insurers. The door into the entrance hall is open. I walk into the hall, its staircase curling up like a coil of smoke through the whole house, black cast iron and gold filigree stretching up to a lantern at the top. There is a marble urn in a deep niche, chequerboard marble tiles. Executives are coming down the stairs, heels hard on marble, and I retreat in embarrassment. How can I start to explain this idiotic quest? I stand in the street and watch the house and take some photographs, apologetic Parisians ducking past me. House-watching is an art. You have to develop a way of seeing how a building sits in its landscape or streetscape. You have to discover how much room it takes up in the world, how much of the world it displaces. Number 81, for instance, is a house that cannily disappears into its neighbours: there are other houses that are grander, some are plainer, but few are more discreet.

I look up at the second-floor windows where Charles had his suite of rooms, some of which looked across the street to the more robustly classical house opposite, some across the courtyard into a busy roofscape of urns and gables and chimneypots. He had an antechamber, two salons – one of which he turned into his study – a dining-room, two bedrooms and a ‘petite’. I try to work it out; he and his older brother Ignace must have had neighbouring apartments on this floor, their elder brother Jules and their widowed mother Mina below, with the higher ceilings and grander windows and the balconies on which, on this April morning, there are now some rather leggy red geraniums in plastic pots. The courtyard of the house was glazed, according to the city records, though all that glass is long gone. And there were five horses and three carriages in these stables which are now a perfect bijou house. I wonder if that number of horses was appropriate for a large and social family wanting to make the right kind of impression.

It is a huge house, but the three brothers must have met every day on those black-and-gold winding stairs, or heard each other as the noise of the carriage being readied in the courtyard echoed from the glazed canopy. Or encountered friends going past their door on the way up to an apartment above. They must have developed a way of not seeing each other, and not hearing each other, too: to live so close to your family takes some doing, I think, reflecting on my own brothers. They must have got on well. Perhaps they had no choice in the matter. Paris was work, after all.

The Hôtel Ephrussi was a family house, but it was also the Parisian headquarters of a family in its ascendancy. It had its counterpart in Vienna, the vast Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse. Both the Parisian and Viennese buildings share a sense of drama, of a public face to the world. They were both built in 1871 in new and fashionable areas: the rue de Monceau and the Ringstrasse were so of-the-minute that they were unfinished, untidy, loud and dusty building sites. They were still spaces that were inventing themselves, competitive with the older parts of town with their narrower streets, and spikily arriviste.

If this particular house in this particular streetscape seems a little stagey, it is because it is a staging of intent. These houses in Paris and Vienna were part of a family plan: the Ephrussi family was ‘doing a Rothschild’. Just as the Rothschilds had sent their sons and daughters out from Frankfurt at the start of the nineteenth century to colonise European capital cities, so the Abraham of my family, Charles Joachim Ephrussi, had masterminded this expansion from Odessa in the 1850s. A true patriarch, he had two sons from his first marriage, Ignace and Léon. And then when he remarried at fifty he had continued producing children: two more sons, Michel and Maurice, and two daughters, Thérèse and Marie. All of these six children were to be deployed as financiers or married into suitable Jewish dynasties.

Odessa was a city within the Pale of Settlement, the area on the western borders of imperial Russia in which Jews were allowed to live. It was famous for its rabbinical schools and synagogues, rich in literature and music, a magnet for the impoverished Jewish shtetls of Galicia. It was also a city that doubled its population of Jews and Greeks and Russians every decade, a polyglot city full of speculation and traders, the docks full of intrigues and spies, a city on the make. Charles Joachim Ephrussi had transformed a small grain-trading business into a huge enterprise by cornering the market in buying wheat. He bought the grain from the middlemen who transported it on carts along the heavily rutted roads from the rich black soil of the Ukrainian wheat fields, the greatest wheat fields in the world, into the port of Odessa. Here the grain was stored in his warehouses before being exported across the Black Sea, up the Danube, across the Mediterranean.

By 1860 the family had become the greatest grain-exporters in the world. In Paris, James de Rothschild was known as the le Roi des Juifs, the King of the Jews. The Ephrussi were les Rois de Blé, the Kings of Grain. They were Jews with their own coat of arms: an ear of corn and a heraldic boat with three masts and full sails. Their motto, Quod honestum, unfurled below the ship: We are above reproach. You can trust us.

The masterplan was to build on this network of contacts and finance huge capital projects: bridges across the Danube, railways across Russia and across France, docks and canals. Ephrussi et Cie would change from being a very successful commodity trading house into an international finance house. It would become a bank. And each helpful deal struck with a government, each venture with an impoverished archduke, each client drawn into serious obligation with the family would be a step towards even greater respectability, a step further from those wagons of wheat creaking in from the Ukraine.

In 1857 the two elder sons and their families were sent out from Odessa to Vienna, the capital city of the sprawling Hapsburg Empire. They bought a huge house in the city centre, and for ten years this was home to a shifting population of grandparents, children and grandchildren as the family moved backwards and forwards between the two cities. One of the sons, my great-great-grandfather Ignace, was tasked with handling Ephrussi business in the Austro-Hungarian Empire from this Vienna base. Paris came next: Léon, the older son, was tasked with establishing the family and business here.

I’m standing outside Léon’s outpost on a honey-coloured hill in the 8th arrondissement. Actually I am leaning against the house opposite and thinking of that fiercely hot summer of 1871 when they arrived from Vienna to this newly built, golden mansion. It was a city still in trauma. The siege by the Prussian army had only ended a few months before with the defeat of France and the declaration of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The new Third Republic was shaky, assailed by communards on the street and by factionalism in government.

The Hôtel Ephrussi in the rue de Monceau

Their house may have been finished, but all the neighbouring buildings were still under construction. The plasterers had only just left, the gilders were lying uncomfortably on the shallow stairs burnishing the finials on the handrail. Furniture, pictures, crates of crockery are shifted slowly up to their apartments. There is noise inside and noise outside, and all the windows are open onto the street. Léon is unwell with a heart complaint. And the family have a terrible start to their life in this beautiful street. Betty, the youngest of Léon and Mina’s four children, married to a young Jewish banker of unimpeachable suitability, dies within weeks of giving birth to a daughter, Fanny. They have to build a family tomb in the Jewish section of the cemetery in Montmartre in their newly adopted city. It is Gothic, large enough for the whole clan, a way of making it clear that they are staying here, whatever is going to happen. I finally find it. The gates are gone and it has caught drifts of autumn’s chestnut leaves.

This hill was the perfect setting for the Ephrussi family. Just as the Ringstrasse in Vienna, where the other half of the family lives, was acerbically known as ‘Zionstrasse’, so Jewish money was a key denominator of life here in the rue de Monceau. The area was developed in the 1860s by Isaac and Emile Pereire, two Sephardic brothers who had made their fortunes as financiers, railroad-builders and property magnates, creating colossal developments of hotels and department stores. They acquired the plaine Monceau, a large nondescript area that was originally beyond the city limits, and set to work developing houses for the burgeoning financial and commercial elite, an appropriate landscape for the newly arrived Jewish families from Russia and the Levant. These streets became a virtual colony, a complex of intermarriage, obligation and religious sympathy.

The Pereires relandscaped the existing eighteenth-century park in order to improve the views of the new houses around it. New cast-iron gates with gilded emblems of the Pereires’ activities now led into it. There was an attempt to call the area around the parc Monceau Le West End. If you are asked where the boulevard Malesherbes leads, a contemporary journalist wrote, ‘answer boldly: to Le West End…One could give it a French name, but that would be vulgar; an English name was far more fashionable.’ This was the park in which, according to a waspish journalist, you could watch ‘the great dames of the noble Faubourg…the female “illustrations” of “La Haute Finance” and “La Haute Colonie Israélite” promenade’. The park had sinuous paths and flowerbeds in the new English style with displays of colourful annuals that had to be constantly renewed, far removed from the grey, clipped formalities of the Tuileries.

As I walk down the hill from the Hôtel Ephrussi at what I consider to be a good flaneurial pace, slower than usual, weaving from one side of the road to the other to check on details of the mouldings of windows, I’m conscious that many of the houses I pass have these stories of reinvention embedded in them. Almost everyone who built them started somewhere else.

Ten houses down from the Ephrussi household, at number 61, is the house of Abraham de Camondo, with his brother Nissim at 63 and their sister Rebecca over the street at number 60. The Camondos, Jewish financiers like the Ephrussi, had come to Paris from Constantinople by way of Venice. The banker Henri Cernuschi, a plutocratic supporter of the Paris Commune, had come to Paris from Italy and lived in chilly magnificence with his Japanese treasures on the edge of the park. At number 55 is the Hôtel Cattaui, home to a family of Jewish bankers from Egypt. At number 43 is the palace of Adolphe de Rothschild, acquired from Eugène Pereire and rebuilt with a glass-roofed exhibition room for his Renaissance art collection.

But nothing compares to the mansion built by the chocolate magnate Émile-Justin Menier. It was a building so splendidly excessive, so eclectic in its garnished decorations, glimpsed above its high walls, that Zola’s description of it as ‘an opulent bastard of every style’ still seems about right. In his dark novel of 1872, La curée, Saccard – a rapacious Jewish property magnate – lives here on the rue de Monceau. You feel this street as the family move in: it is a street of Jews, a street full of people on display in their lavish golden houses. Monceau is slang in Paris for nouveau riche, newly arrived.

This is the world in which my netsuke first settled. On this street down the hill I feel this play between discretion and opulence, a sort of breathing-in and breathing-out of invisibility and visibility.

Charles Ephrussi was twenty-one when he came to live here. Paris was being planted with trees, and wide pavements were taking the place of the cramped interstices of the old city. There had been fifteen years of constant demolition and rebuilding under the direction of Baron Haussmann, the civic planner. He had razed medieval streets and created new parks and new boulevards. Vistas were opened up with extraordinary velocity.

If you want to taste this moment, taste the dust sweeping along the newly paved avenues and across the bridges, look at two paintings of Gustave Caillebotte. Caillebotte, a few months older than Charles, lived around the corner from the Ephrussi family in another grand hotel. You see in his Le pont de l’Europe a young man, well dressed in his grey overcoat and black top hat, maybe the artist, walking over the bridge along the generous pavement. He is two steps ahead of a young woman in a dress of sedate frills carrying a parasol. The sun is out. There is the glare of newly dressed stone. A dog passes by. A workman leans over the bridge. It is like the start of the world: a litany of perfect movements and shadows. Everyone, including the dog, knows what they are doing.

Gustave Caillebotte, Le pont de l’Europe, 1876

The streets of Paris have a calmness to them: clean stone façades, rhythmic detailing of balconies, newly planted lime trees appear in his painting Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, shown in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. Here Caillebotte’s brother stands at the open window of their family apartment looking out onto the intersection of the rue de Monceau’s neighbouring streets. He stands with his hands in his pockets, well dressed and self-assured, with his life before him and a plush armchair behind him.

Everything is possible.

This could be the young Charles. He was born in Odessa and spends the first ten years of his life in a yellow-stuccoed palais on the edge of a dusty square fringed with chestnut trees. If he climbs to the attics of the house he can see all the way across the masts of the ships in the port to the sea. His grandfather occupies a whole floor and all the space. The bank is next door. He cannot move along the promenade without someone stopping his grandfather or father or uncles to ask them for information, a favour, a kopek, something. He learns, without knowing it, that to move in public means a series of encounters and avoidances; how to give money to beggars and pedlars, how to greet acquaintances without stopping.

Then Charles moves to Vienna, living there for the next decade with his parents, his siblings, his uncle Ignace and glacial aunt Émilie, and his three cousins – Stefan (haughty), Anna (acerbic) and the little boy Viktor. A tutor comes each morning. They learn their languages: Latin, Greek, German and English. They are always to speak French at home, and are allowed to use Russian amongst themselves, but must not be caught speaking the Yiddish that they picked up in the courtyards in Odessa. All these cousins can start a sentence in one language and finish it in another. They need these languages, as the family travels to Odessa, to St Petersburg, to Berlin and Frankfurt and Paris. They also need these languages as they are denominators of class. With languages, you can move from one social situation to another. With languages, you are at home anywhere.

They visit Breughel’s Hunters in the Snow with its patchwork of dogs busy on the ridge. They open the cabinets of drawings in the Albertina, the watercolours by Dürer of the trembling hare, the outstretched wing of a lapidary bird. They learn to ride in the Prater. The boys are taught to fence and all the cousins take dance lessons. All the cousins dance well. Charles, at eighteen, has a family nickname, le Polonais, the Pole, the waltzing boy.

It is in Vienna that the oldest boys, Jules, Ignace and Stefan, are taken to the offices off the Ringstrasse on the Schottenbastei. It is a forbidding building. This is where the Ephrussi conduct business. The boys are told to sit quietly as shipments of grain are discussed and percentages on stock are queried. There are new possibilities in oil in Baku and gold near Lake Baikal. Clerks scurry. This is where they are blooded in the sheer scale of what will be theirs, taught the catechism of profit from the endless columns in the ledgers.

This is when Charles sits with his youngest cousin Viktor and draws Laocoön and the snakes, the statue he loved in Odessa, making the coils extra specially tight around muscly shoulders to impress the boy. It takes a long time to draw each of those snakes well. He sketches what he has seen in the Albertina. He sketches the servants. And he talks to his parents’ friends about their pictures. It is always pleasing to have your paintings discussed by such a knowledgeable young man.

And then at last there is the long-planned move to Paris. Charles is good-looking, slightly built with a neatly trimmed dark beard, which has a haze of red in particular lights. He has an Ephrussi nose, large and beaked, and the high forehead of all the cousins. His eyes are dark grey and alive, and he is charming. You see how well dressed he is, with his cravat beautifully folded, and then you hear him talk: he is as good a talker as a dancer.

Charles is free to do what he wants.

I want to think this is because he was the youngest son and the third son and, as in all good children’s stories, it is always the third son who gets to leave home and go adventuring – pure projection, as I am a third son. But I suspect that the family know this boy is not cut out for the life of the Bourse. His uncles Michel and Maurice have moved to Paris: perhaps there were enough sons for the offices of Ephrussi et Cie at 45 rue de l’Arcade not to miss this pleasant bookish one, with his habit of withdrawing when money comes up and that aptitude for losing himself in conversation.

Charles has his new apartment in the family house, gilded and clean, and empty. He has somewhere to come back to, a new house on a newly paved Parisian hill. He has languages, he has money and he has time. So now he sets off wandering. Like a well-brought-up young man, Charles goes south. He goes to Italy.

 Copyright © 2010 by Edmund de Waal
All rights reserved
Originally published in 2010 by Chatto & Windus, Great Britain,
as The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance
Published in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Continues...

Excerpted from The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal Copyright © 2010 by Edmund de Waal. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 83 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 83 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 20, 2011

    An incredible story that will appeal to art and literature lovers

    As someone who rarely (if ever) reads non-fiction, I found myself sucked into Hare with Amber Eyes. Literary and artistic allusions abound - the narrator's grandmother had an ongoing correspondence with poet Rainer Maria Rilke, his great grand uncle was the model for Proust's Swann and one of the first backers of the Impressionists, etc. Highly recommended.

    10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2012

    Fascinating, beautifully written, informative

    A fascinating story of the history of one very successful Jewish family from about mid 1800's to post WWII, including their experience with Nazism, related by following the movement of their art works in this time period.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 21, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Rise And Fall Of A Prominent Family

    In The Hare With Amber Eyes, Edmund De Waal narrates the rise and fall of his maternal family over decades and countries. His mother was one of the members of the Ephrussi family. The Ephrussi were Russian grain traders who became wealthy and branched into banking and art collections. They owned grand mansions and banks in Paris, Vienna and later lived in Japan.

    The book starts with the story of the French branch. Charles Ephrussi was an art collector, dandy and ladies' man, living with the rest of the family in a mansion in Paris and seen in all the best circles. One of his early collections was a set of 274 netsuke; the Japanese ivory miniatures carved to illustrate animals, daily life memorabilia such as logs or a sheaf of grain, and the inhabitants of the country. He later gave this stunning collection as a wedding gift to a couple in his family from the Austrian branch, and the netsuke moved to Vienna for their next home.

    In Vienna, Viktor and Emmy Ephrussi lived the life of fabulously wealthy Austrians; days filled with social visits and clubs and business relationships; the nights filled with society dinners and balls. The children of this couple were entranced with the netsuke, which lived in Emmy's dressing room and which the children were allowed to play with as they watched their mother dress for evenings out. But this fabled existence was shattered by the German invasion and conquer of Austria in World War II. In a manner of days, the entire Ephrussi fortune was distributed to various German strongholds as the family was forced to sign over everything and finally managed to flee the country. Imagine the surprise after the war when one of the children returned and found that the netsuke had miraculously survived.

    The next home for the collection was in Japan, where they had been created. Iggie, who had become a fashion designer after fighting with the Americans in the war, settled in Japan and lived there for many decades. His nephew, Edmund De Waal, visited him there and had a close relationship with him. De Waal, a potter who lived in England, appreciated the artistry of the netsuke and Iggie left the collection to him. The netsuke now reside in England with De Waal.

    De Waal has written a splendid history of his family, using art to tie together the generations and the various branches of this illustrious family in various countries. The chapter in which the family is made destitute by the Nazis brings home the horror of that time in a way that dry history books cannot. This book is recommended for art lovers, for history lovers, and for anyone interested in a marvelous read.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 4, 2012

    A wonderful book by a talented writer. Part family memoir, part

    A wonderful book by a talented writer. Part family memoir, part holocaust narrative, de Waal's meditations on the nature of our relationships with objects is fascinating -- what they displace in the world, what we choose to hold, to touch, how their loss affects us, and how they stand as metaphors for how we live. The narrative is framed by de Waal's quest to understand how a collection of netsuke's (the small, intricately carved Japanese objects used to weight the end of obis -- kimono belts), which he now owns, came into the family possession.

    De Waal, who is an acclaimed potter, comes from an intriguing family. The once-fabulously wealthy began as grain merchants in Odessa and rose to international prominence as bankers at the center of the art world of Belle Epoque Paris (hobnobbing with Proust, Degas, Renoir and other such luminaries) and Vienna just prior to World War II. The author writes about their lives with imagination and elegance. His description of the moments when Vienna fell and the Palais Ephrussi, the family home (albeit an unusually grand one), was overrun by Gestapo is both heartbreaking and horrifying.

    The last section of the book, dealing with the author's uncle in Japan is less evocative, and perhaps this is merely because it can't help but pale in comparison to the previous sections. Then, too, de Waal has a moment of odd crankiness when he snaps at a friend who questions his determination to keep the museum-worthy collection rather than return it to Japan. He states he has every right to keep the netsukes.

    "No, I answer. Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost. People have always given gifts. It is how you tell their stories that matters."

    Is this true? I don't think so, not entirely. The first part is undeniable, but the second -- that it is only the stories that matter -- I cannot agree with. I think of the sacred objects that have been stolen from First Nations people, for example, and I believe they should be returned. The fact people have always stolen, bartered or given them away is not moral justification. I do, as a writer, understand the power of stories, but cannot use this power to negate my responsibilities, not even if Renoir painted my ancestors, not even if Proust wrote about them.

    Still, even with this criticism, it is a thought-provoking and interesting read. Highly recommended.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2013

    Worth Sticking Through

    While this starts really slow, towards the end, the lessons in history are phenomenal. This book brought a lot of memories back to me about my childhood.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2012

    Couldn't Get into This!

    I am sure there are many who really enjoyed this book however I am not one of them. It just didnt hold my interest, actually it was probably the most boring book I have read since elementary school. LOL I know it got great reviews so this is just my opinion.

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2012

    Portrait of a Century

    Overall the book is fascinating, particularly in its graphic and horrible descriptions of the Nazi takeover in Vienna. I know a good deal about this, and this is the most accurate description I have read. I also thought that the sections on Charles in Paris were fascinating, and how he had the intelligence to buy up so many impressionists when they could be bought for so little. My only negatives were a little more on dresses and styles than I cared about. But overall the music was a very interesting read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2013

    Fascinating! Required Reading

    With painstaking research, the author reconstructs the lives of his extended family from 1872 to 2009, providing vignettes from Paris, Vienna, Tokyo and other sites. It chronicles the decline of a once influential, wealthy family that lost nearly all its wealth as the Nazis occupied Austria and France. This story is beautifully told and makes history come alive. The Nazis' confiscation of all property and possessions of the Jews is told in chilling detail. We should never forget the extreme cruelty and avidity of the Nazis.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I want to know about the illustrated edition - how many illustra

    I want to know about the illustrated edition - how many illustrations?  Of the netsuke?  OF the Impressionist artwork?  Of the Viennese buildings?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2013

    A touching tribute to the power of some possessions to evoke his

    A touching tribute to the power of some possessions to evoke history. Pursuing the story of the netsuke that he had inherited, Edmund de Waal vividly brings his family history to life. And what a history it is ! He comes from a formerly uber wealthy banking family comparable to the Rothschilds. If you like Paris and Vienna, the Belle Epoque, Proust, the Impressionists, WW II history - this is the book for you. Loved it !

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2012

    definitely one I recommend

    If you like history and art - in a biographical format, this is the book for you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2014

    For the art history lover

    Political art family history. Interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2014

    Beyond the Beautiful Forevers

    An easy,entertaining read about the lives of slumdwellers on theboutskirts of Mumbai. Although it reads like a story, it is actually an account of real people and the daily challenges they face as garbage pickers. In the realization that this is non-fiction, it can be rather depressing but the author's ability to evoke sympathy without tear-jerking trivialization is exquisite. Certainly of interest to anyone who has or has the desirebyo visit India.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2014

    Great book

    I have given this book to many of my friends and they all love it. Well written and highly enjoyable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2014

    Beautiful book

    After seeing the movie about the Monuments Men read this book. It is a beautifully written history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2013

    A spirit

    Next res.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2013

    Nettlestar waits

    :-)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2013

    Gteat historical story but...

    Veryi interesting true story but bogged down with excessive and esoteric detail. High brow amd pretenious. Did not love it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Dawn

    You not active. You should join moonpack at books and scrolls first res. Im dawn and i hang out at scavenger all results.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2012

    Eternal

    A long furred tabby pads in, eyes troubled. "My clan hath been missing for an aeon. My clan... amberstar, willowcloud, hailstorm... thou have stuck with me till I went missing. I came back... you were gone. You left without a trace... I miss thou so much... Thunderclan will always have a special place in my heart. My clan eternal... I hope to see thee in starclan." She steps silently away... (my name is sundrop. I live at thunder andrain all results)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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