The Hare with Amber Eyes (Edmund de Waal)

Article by mark

As a bookseller, you’re not always the one giving the recommendations. You’re just as often receiving them. During my time at Brazos, I’ve heard so many people rave about Edmund de Waal’s THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES (from regulars to strangers to friends), that I was compelled to include the book as a choice for Brazos’ monthly book club. I’m glad that I heeded those endorsements, because THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES is a moving and astonishing book, unlike anything I’ve read before. In this memoir-slash-family inquiry-slash-20th century history lesson, de Waal, a world class ceramicist, explains how he came about inheriting a collection of 264 miniature Japanese netsuke sculptures.

The book submerges the reader in 1880’s Paris, when Parisian society was obsessed with all things Japanese. After a marriage, the netsuke are gifted to cousins. Next, in Austria, the Viennese branch of the family lives the glamorous life, replete with elegant dinners and nights at the opera. Even this wealthy Jewish family is allowed these things until history happens: a certain assassination, World War I, the rise of fascism, and not long after, World War II. The netsuke are silent characters in this book, and yet they are paramount, for the netsuke are the sole witnesses to it all. From de Waal’s grandparents taking them out to play as children, to the Gestapo bursting through the doors of de Waal’s great-grandparents’ mansion to loot and ransack, the story of how the netsuke survived and how de Waal inherited them is staggering.  

Beautifully written, THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES is a story about family and history and the relationship we share with objects, which often come to mean so much more than we realize. There are incredible descriptions of architecture, politics and literature (de Waal’s great grandfather mingled socially with Proust, and his grandmother had a correspondence with German poet Rilke). It is a moving and fascinating book, and I have happily joined in the chorus of those who sing its praises.

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312569372
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador - August 2nd, 2011

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