Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Hare with Amber Eyes has been the most absorbing, completely fascinating story that I have read in a long time ... I didn't know whether to read it quickly, because I was so engrossed, or slowly, to make it last.
Edmund de Waal is a ceramicist; I know I've seen his work in the V&A, but I must go back now for a better look. In 1994 he was left a large collection of Japanese netsuke by his great-uncle Iggie Ephrussi who lived in Tokyo. They had been bought in Paris in the 1870s by Iggie's cousin Charles Ephrussi. That's a name that I recognised, if only vaguely. The Ephrussi family was fabulously wealthy, nearly as rich as the Rothschilds ... and Charles was a patron of the Impressionists. You'd recognise him ... he's one of the cast of Renoir's Boating Party and was a model for Proust's Charles Swann. (I am now feeling a pressing need to read Proust.)
'You take an object from your pocket and put it down in front of you and you start. You begin to tell a story.' And what a story ... from Paris to Vienna and back to Tokyo, against a turbulent background of history when even the Ephrussis' staggering wealth couldn't insulate them from the swell of anti-Semitism. Until the netsuke came to rest in an Edwardian family home in an ordinary London suburb. I'm completely in awe of de Waal's skills as researcher, writer, historian. You feel like he's spinning history on his potter's wheel.
There's only one thing wrong with this book ... 264 netsuke and not a single picture of any one of them. I'm sure I'm not the only reader who wanted to see the hare with amber eyes.


Anonymous said...

Mary if you can be bothered, hike up to the 6th floor ceramics galleries and look up the dome - Edmund de Waal has done a huge installation up there that's pretty impressive!

mary said...

That's why I wanted to go back, Rachel. Has it been there since the galleries opened? I have a feeling that I didn't look up ... well, that's always a mistake! Will definitely check it out next time I'm there.