Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Several friends recommended The Hare with the Amber Eyes to me, given my interest in both Japanese art and Jewish history. This nonfiction paperback from 2010 reads like a mystery. When artist Edmund de Waal inherited a collection of 264 Japanese carvings, he decided to trace these netsuke through five generations of his family's tumultuous history.

The Ephrussis were once influential bankers and art patrons, like the Rothchilds, but after two world wars, little remained of their vast collections beyond the netsuke. De Waal travelled from his home in England to Paris, to Vienna, to Japan and to Odessa, collecting photos and documents, and interviewing survivors. Like a detective, he pieced together the clues to learn about his collection, the collectors, and how the Nazis nearly obliterated his Jewish family. Old photos illustrate his narrative, taking us back in history. His book was well written and very original.

While reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes, I had the opportunity to visit the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, which has netsuke on display. The tiny figurines were designed as toggles for purses hanging off traditional Japanese garments since kimonos didn't have pockets. Carved of wood or ivory, the netsuke are small enough to hold in hand but are exquisitely detailed. Their often grotesque humor reminded me of gargoyles. The netsuke were invented in the 17th century and were popular until 1868, when Japan was opened to the West. I loved the story of how the Ephrussi collection returned to Japan, and how these small artifacts survived so much history. I wish the museum would let visitors hold their netsuke in hand.



While in California visiting my son at UC Berkeley, I took the train 15 hours south to meet Barrie Summy in San Diego. Although we've been crit partners for years, this was our first time meeting in real life. We talked enough for all that missed time. It was so much fun! I'm so grateful to Barrie for hosting this wonderful book review club for more than a decade and for connecting all of us through our shared passion for books and blogging. Thanks, Barrie!


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13 comments:

Barrie said...

So glad you made it down to San Diego, Sarah! I loved meeting you IRL and chatting and chatting and chatting. Thank you for being part of the Book Review Club for all these years. I enjoyed your review today (as always!). Hope to hang out with you again SOON! ❤️

pattinase (abbott) said...

That book has been recommended to me countless times. Maybe this will be the time I read it.

Jenn Jilks said...

How fun to meet up!
What an interesting book!

wheelerph said...

That book sounds interesting! And I'm so glad you got to meet!

Lucy said...

Sounds like it is a bit of a mystery. And sounds very interesting too. Thanks for reviewing.

Powell River Books said...

How wonderful to be able to meet in real life. We used to visit San Diego often when we lived in Southern California, but since we moved north to BC we haven't been back. - Margy

troutbirder said...

What an unusual combination. Japanese art, Jewish/European history and a detective story. Meeting Barrie had to be special. I so have enjoyed the Book Club. And I hope to have more time for blogging now. Caretaking at home for Barb dementia for several year has been considerably diminished due to her placement in "memory care". Cal/Berkeley raises an interest dilemma for my eighteen year old grandson. He has four full ride offers from Arizona Universities but his dream is Berkeley. If he qualifies it will all come down to scholarships and money....

Sarah Laurence said...

All, thanks for your enthusiasm! I'm looking forward to visiting your blogs this weekend after a busy week.

Troutbirder, congrats to your grandson! I hope the scholarship comes through but staying in state with a full ride would be good too. Luckily for my son, UC Berkeley Engineering offered him a fellowship for tuition with a stipend. It was his best offer and the best program in his field, although he prefers northern New England for location. I'm glad your wife is receiving the care she needs and that you have more time.

Donna said...

How fun that you two finally got to meet in person! Kindred spirits!

Amanda Summer said...

What an interesting book. When I was visiting a college friend who lives in the south of France I saw there was a Villa Ephrussi in St. Jean Cap Ferrat.
I've never taken the train all the way down the California coast - what a great trip.
Btw, so happy I can now comment on others' blogs! My Google connection has been down for a long time and I finally fixed it!

Sarah Laurence said...

Donna, it was fun to meet Barrie, and speaking of connecting, I'm no longer able to comment on your blog. Have you disabled commenting or is this the same problem Amanda was having? I can comment on other blogs.

Amanda, great to have you back to commenting and posting!

Donna said...

I disabled comments on my blog for now! I hope you'll still come around though! :)

A Cuban In London said...

I've no words to describe those figurines. They look so quaint and scary and pretty and everything. :-)

Greetings from London.