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How do you write a sad story without nostalgia?,
This review is from: The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss (Hardcover)
Imagine you are the descendant of one of those families of 19th-century Jewish financiers who spread around the major capitals of Europe to forge a continental empire. Along the way, the family comes to feature an art collector who served as a patron for the Impressionists and inspired Proust's Swann. A later generation includes one of the first women to attend university in the early twentieth century; she graduates as a lawyer, becomes a writer and corresponds with Rilke. Imagine that the family's wealth disappears in the blink of an eye when Germany annexes Austria. That is in a nutshell the story of the Ephrussi clan, which Edmund De Waal chronicles in "The Hare with Amber Eyes." That is only a peek at the material that the author had at his disposal, which should have made the work relatively simple to write. But the author set himself a challenge. He refused to produce a straightforward history: "It could write itself, I think, this kind of story. A few stitched-together wistful anecdotes, more about the Orient-Express, of course, a bit of wandering around Prague or somewhere equally photogenic, some clippings from Google on ballrooms in the Belle Epoque. It would come out as nostalgic. And thin."
Instead of a predictable tale from Mitteleuropa about lost grandeur, the author takes a (slightly Proustian) shortcut that leads to unexpected and sometimes deeply moving places. One of the illustrious ancestors collected tiny but incredibly intricate Japanese carvings called netsuke used in early modern Japan as toggles for purse strings. The book traces the story of these sculptures as they are passed down from one generation of Ephrussi to the next. Along the way, the author interrogates subtle ways in which the netsuke's meaning shifts when they move from Third Republic Paris to Harry Lime's Vienna and beyond. Through this device, De Waal manages to both narrate the story of the rise and fall of the Ephrussi and also sketch the myriad objects they owned and collected during their century and a half of eminence. The book manages to write an elegant history not just of people but also of the places they inhabited and the things they loved and touched. Nothing thin about that.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 2, 2010 9:27:50 PM PDT
Jeff Hanna says:
Loved your comments. Just read a RAVE review of this book in a recent issue of The Christian Science Monitor.
Posted on Sep 18, 2010 7:47:53 AM PDT
Page Turner says:
An excellent review.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2010 8:03:28 AM PDT
Thank you! Very kind of you.
Posted on Sep 29, 2010 9:42:14 AM PDT
I am currently reading - and enjoying - this book enormously. Mr de Waal is a very graceful writer describing an era and people gone forever. Your review was wonderful and inspired me to buy and read it. Thank you.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2010 9:46:11 AM PDT
Thank you. You are very kind. I'm glad you are enjoying the book.
Posted on Dec 28, 2010 12:09:14 PM PST
Merrily Baird says:
thank you so much for this beautiful review, as poetic as edmund de waal's book itself.....although i, as a specialist in japanese art, regretted the lack of photos of the nestuke themselves, de waal's explanations of how they were viewed, handled, and cherished by different generations of ephrussi owners was reward enough.....and the fact that the netsuke collection also inspired de waal to examine this remarkable family's history, with sidebars on proust and rilke, among others, was a most precious bonus.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2010 5:56:43 PM PST
Thanks for your comment. I guess the decision to not include images of De Waal's collection was deliberate, but here is a Guardian article with photographs of seven of his pieces: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/gallery/2
Posted on Oct 25, 2011 7:04:01 AM PDT
I now must read this book. Thank you.
Posted on Feb 26, 2012 7:38:49 PM PST
Charles M. Wyzanski says:
Thanks for your literate and informative review. I was unsure whether to take this on but now I definitely will. (As the new purchaser of a Nook which I preferred to the Kindle, I am shocked at how inferior the reviews are on the Barnes & Noble website as compared to those, such as yours, on Amazon. I'm not sure why this should be.)
In reply to an earlier post on May 25, 2014 10:52:02 AM PDT
Howard Davis says:
Thank you so much for the review and the Guardian link.
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