The Hare With Amber Eyes Book Summary - The Hare With Amber Eyes Book explained in key points

The Hare With Amber Eyes summary

Edmund de Waal

Brief summary

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal is a captivating family memoir that traces the journey of a collection of Japanese netsuke through generations, offering a unique perspective on art, culture, and history.

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    The Hare With Amber Eyes
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    A Journey Through the Ephrussis' Family Legacy

    In The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal embarks on a personal journey through the illustrious history of his family, the Ephrussis. Starting from Odessa, a vibrant multicultural city in the 19th century, the narrative introduces us to the Ephrussi family's grain merchants who amassed considerable wealth comparable to the Rothschilds. The prosperity of their business branch in Vienna enabled them to enter high society and amass a grand collection of artworks, including a collection of 264 Japanese netsuke, miniature carvings.

    The book continues from the viewpoint of one member, Charles Ephrussi, a sophisticated art critic and enthusiast residing in Paris. Charles becomes a significant patron of the Impressionists and receives the collection of netsuke as a wedding gift. The netsuke are somewhat of an anomaly amid his impressive assemblage of art pieces yet symbolize a form of art devoid of grandeur or pretention. They are symbolic objects in this family narrative, minor yet powerful.

    From the Glory Days to Dark Times

    As anti-Semitism begins to rise in Europe, the glory days of the Ephrussis start to fade. During the Nazi Anschluss of Austria, the Vienna Ephrussis are bound by their Jewish lineage, enduring a catastrophic seizure of their property, including their prized art collection. However, the small netsuke hidden in a decoratively worn mattress remain safe due to their unlikeliness to attract Nazi interest.

    The custodian of the netsuke during this perilous time is Anna, the Ephrussis' devoted maid, who safeguards the collection inside her mattress. After the war, Anna hands over the netsuke to Ignace Ephrussi, who manages to escape the Holocaust and relocates to Tokyo, bringing family heirloom and its history with him.

    Retracing the Footsteps in Post-war Tokyo

    Now in his possession, Ignace Ephrussi, radically different in mindset from his forebears, finds solace in the meditative traditional rituals of Japan. The small tactile netsuke become an intimate connection to his family's past — a tactile link stretching over continents and histories. The collection eventually finds its way to the author Edmund de Waal, Ignace’s grandson, in England.

    Upon inheriting the netsuke, de Waal takes it upon himself to trace their journey, unearthing the saga of the Ephrussi family: their rise to prominence, the horrific impact of the world wars, their cultural love affair with art, and their resilience amid turmoil. In this quest, the netsuke serve as touchstones through diverse eras and places, guiding the author's understanding of his lineage.

    Conclusion and Reflection

    The Hare with Amber Eyes is not merely a family memoir but a profound exploration of the ephemeral nature of wealth, the transformative power of art, and the grim history of European anti-Semitism. The netsuke, often unnoticed against monumental art displays, ultimately serve as poignant metaphors of survival, persistently embodying the Ephrussi family's legacy through generations and turbulent times.

    In conclusion, de Waal's journey into the heart of his family's past isn’t simply reconstructive but reflective, prompting us to consider our own relationship with our heritage. His intimate encounter through these objets d'art helps us realize that sometimes, the seemingly insignificant aspects of our personal or familial history can provide the deepest insights into our lineage and ourselves.

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    What is The Hare With Amber Eyes about?

    The Hare With Amber Eyes is a captivating memoir that follows the journey of a collection of netsuke, tiny Japanese sculptures, as they are passed down through generations of a wealthy European family. Edmund de Waal, the author and a renowned ceramic artist himself, explores the intertwined stories of his ancestors and the art objects, unveiling a tale of survival, loss, and the enduring power of art.

    About the Author

    Edmund de Waal is a British author and ceramic artist. He has gained recognition for his book The Hare With Amber Eyes, a family memoir that explores the history of a collection of Japanese netsuke figurines. De Waal's writing beautifully weaves together personal narratives, historical research, and artistry. He has also written The White Road, a memoir about his experiences in porcelain, and The Pot Book, a comprehensive guide to pottery throughout history.

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