Nine Heads and Tails members met on 26th October to discuss Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010).
This four-generational family memoir tracks the ascent and decline of the Ephrussi family, de Waal’s Jewish ancestors. In crossing over from ceramic to literary creativity, potter de Waal crosses cities, continents and generations, to unfold human history.
The book has won many awards , which may in part be due to its appeal to a broad audience. This was certainly reflected in the opinions of our group, with an average score of 8. Jesse Kornbluth writing on Huffington Post Books sums up its wide appeal:
” The Hare with Amber Eyes has, as they say in show biz, everything. The highest echelons of Society in pre-World War I Paris. Nazi thugs and Austrian collaborators. A gay heir who takes refuge in Japan. Style. Seduction. Rothschild-level wealth. Two centuries of anti-Semitism. And 264 pieces of netsuke, the pocket-sized ivory-or-wood sculpture first made in Japan in the 17th century”
Not all of us enjoyed all parts of this tale, which follows the travels of the netsuke, beginning in the 19th century salons of uppercrust Paris, moving to Anschluss Vienna, to 1990s Japan and finally Odessa. A few members would sympathise with this online review of the opening section in which art collector Charles Ephrussi acquires the netsuke:
“I love art, but my eyes started to glaze over by the umpteenth depiction of a stately salon filled to bursting with brocade, porcelain and ivory. At times I felt like I was watching one of those online virtual tours of museums or historical houses that allow you to slowly pan around a room to take in every detail, only at an even slower pace”
But everyone agreed that the story of the fate of the Ephrussi family and the netsuke gained pace – and our attention – from the point of the collection’s arrival in Vienna. The liveliest part of our discussion was over the fate of Vienna’s 180,000 plus Jewish community, one of Europe’s best assimilated.