Top critical review
214 people found this helpful
Too much, too little . . .
on January 15, 2011
In his Prologue, the author writes, "I really don't want to get into the sepia saga business, writing up some elegiac Mitteleuropa narrative of loss." But for at least the first section of the book, he does exactly that. It comes across as one long name-dropping list of people and paintings. He also says that he doesn't want his book to seem thin, but it does. He tries to give depth and meaning to his research and to the netsuke, but it doesn't work; it's pretentious--a lot of dreamy interpretations that I just don't trust; he's trying too hard to be poetical and moving, to the point that the writing just becomes nonsensical sometimes. And he's trying too hard to get too much into the book, so that he doesn't do justice to any single element.
The section on Vienna becomes much more interesting, and the invasion by the Nazis is the most vivid and interesting part of the book--the one story out of the many stories here that really does deserve to be told, over and over, forever.
So, the book ends up being both too much and too little.
One of the results of his trying to cram too much in is that we never really get to know any of the people in any depth, so it's hard to care about them except, of course, as the victims of Hitler, but not as the individuals they were.
One of the many books he could have made is a nice photo album. He's continually telling us about works of art, netsuke, people, photos in his possession, and yet we don't SEE them. The few photos in the book are badly reproduced on porous paper.