The Hare with Amber Eyes : A Hidden Inheritance, Paperback

The Hare with Amber Eyes : A Hidden Inheritance Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (12 ratings)


THE NUMBER ONE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER. WINNER OF THE 2010 COSTA BIOGRAPHY AWARD. 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie's Tokyo apartment.

When he later inherited the 'netsuke', they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined.

From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siecle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the netsuke's journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century. 'You have in your hands a masterpiece' Frances Wilson, Sunday Times. 'The most brilliant book I've read for years...A rich tale of the pleasure and pains of what it is to be human' Bettany Hughes, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year. 'A complex and beautiful book' Diana Athill.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368 pages, black & white illustrations, maps
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Carvings: artworks
  • ISBN: 9780099539551



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Showing 1 - 5 of 12 reviews.

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Review by

Edmund de Waal has written a lovely book centred around the history of a collection of Japanese netsuke he inherited from his great uncle. By using the netsuke de Waal has created a book which is both personal, as he explores the daily lives of his various ancestors who owned the netsuke, but also universal as politics and economics impact their daily lives. As is inevitable with a story about a wealthy Jewish family living in Vienna, the sections centred around WWII were both horrible and fascinating and de Waal’s anger and frustration at his ancestor’s treatment at the hands of the Nazi’s is compellingly conveyed. Following the recent earthquake, tsunami and the, as I write this review, subsequent and ongoing ‘situation’ with the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, I found the description of the hardships post-war Japan very moving , ‘Faced with this hardship, the phrase of the moment was Shikata ga nai. It means “Nothing can be done about it”, with a strong undercurrent of “and don’t complain”.’Wonderful.

Review by

A synopsis of the book is probably unnecessary given the number of reviews below. Suffice it to say that de Waal uses his inheritance of a large collection of netsuke, including the eponymous and stunning hare, to trace back the history of the netsuke in his family and as such to tell his family's story. And an engaging story it is - de Waal traces his lineage back to the Ephrussi family, grain traders from Odessa who became wealthy bankers in Paris and most of central Europe, before losing literally everything in the Anschluss and being scattered to the corners of the globe. De Waal''s Uncle Iggy ends up in Tokyo, and from there the netsuke pass to de WaalUnlike some other reviewers, I found the first half of the book most engaging. The story of Charles Ephrussi, aesthete and collector, inching his way to the centre of artistic life in Paris, finally to become one of the inspirations for Proust's Swann, appearing in paintings by Manet and Renoir, despite an undercurrent of anti semitism, is engrossing. When the scene shifts to the Ephrussi Palace in Vienna, and the Nazi's come to power ... well we know what's going to happen, and sure enough it does. De Waal tells the story movingly - but you can't help wondering why a family as smart as the Ephrussi didn't see it coming and protect themselves better. They certainly had the resources to do soIts true that the Ephrussi are not always sympathetic characters; their maid Anna stands by the family in its decline, saves the nesuke from the Nazis and passes them to De Waal's grandmother after the war. She should be a treated as almost a member of the family but instead, shockingly, no one can even remember her surname let alone know what happened to her. But de Waal tells it like it is, and we are left with one of the most enjoyable memoirs I have read for some time. For readers interested, a recent issue of The Economist's Intelligent Life has an article by de Waal updating the history of the netsuke further

Review by

A biography of a collection - it's a good idea and a great read. First we follow a foppish flanuer, then watch as his moneyed family's empire crumbles to dust, and so forth...all endured stoically by the eponymous hare and his friends.

Review by

Excellent read - biography and study of Paris, Vienna and Tokyo at different times, beautifully written, and covering some large themes. Recommended.

Review by

The concept of tracing the history of a rich Jewish banker family through the vicissitudes of a collection of Japanese miniature sculptures, is original and interesting. The beginning of the book is a bit slow, but it then comes to life with fascinating descriptions of the Ephrussi in Paris during Impressionism or in Vienna during the first part of the 20th century, ending with dramatic events surrounding the Austrian Anschluss into the German Reich.And yet it is hard to feel much sympathy for this family or for the author. A wronged sense of entitlement pervades much of the book, and a lot of energy goes into describing how the family lost most of its wealth under the Nazis (the description of the Kristallnacht mob entering the Ephrussi building and ransacking the furniture is blood-curdling). On the other hand, no moral judgment is passed on how the Ephrussi had spent their money until then, nor is the reader left no clearer as to how the Ephrussi's fortune was amassed in a few short decades only. In this romantic vision of "When my family played Downton Abbey in Vienna", servants receive short shrift: Anna, the saviour of the netsuke collection, is quickly dismissed (nobody in the family even remembers her last name); and of course the doorman is blamed for letting the gates wide open for the Gestapo on an inspection visit (as if a closed door was going to stop them). It would have been easier to warm to the family, if the author would have come across as less of a self-absorbed person. His pottery activity is mentioned regularly, but pretty much irrelevant to the book; and some odd choices in vocabulary (a "glaucous" pudding - really?) betray the random use of a thesaurus to impress the readers. Finally, some fact-checking would have been in order, so as to get the spelling and syntax of French and German phrases right. The errors are not only linguistic, but also historical and geographic: Czechoslovakia did not exist before 1918, so the Ephrussi couldn't have a country estate there (if anything, before WWI they would probably have thought of it as Hungary). Dachau is not on the edge of Bavaria but on the outskirts of Munich. Germany was the land of thinkers and poets ("Land der Dichter und Denker"), not Austria - etc etc. Over all, an interesting read of a flawed book. The awards for the book seem motivated by compassion for the richess-to-rags family history (coupled with a Goodwin bonus), more than for the craftsmanship of the author.

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