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Der Hase mit den Bernsteinaugen: Das…
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Der Hase mit den Bernsteinaugen: Das verborgene Erbe der Familie Ephrussi (original 2010; edition 2012)

by Edmund de Waal, Brigitte Hilzensauer (Übersetzer)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,759844,006 (3.97)195
Member:jacksmith
Title:Der Hase mit den Bernsteinaugen: Das verborgene Erbe der Familie Ephrussi
Authors:Edmund de Waal
Other authors:Brigitte Hilzensauer (Übersetzer)
Info:Paul Zsolnay Verlag (2012), Gebundene Ausgabe, 416 Seiten
Collections:Anni
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (2010)

2011 (22) 2012 (16) 20th century (18) art (123) art history (55) Austria (34) autobiography (15) biography (170) book club (13) ebook (15) Ephrussi family (18) Europe (34) family (17) family history (43) fiction (25) France (20) history (152) Holocaust (23) Japan (99) Jewish (22) Jews (33) Kindle (19) memoir (146) netsuke (87) non-fiction (146) Odessa (18) Paris (60) to-read (55) Vienna (84) WWII (67)
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English (77)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  All languages (84)
Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
Too much art history. ( )
  Tifi | Jun 29, 2014 |
Six-word review: Family saga mirrors recent European history.

Extended review:

I've given a rare five-star rating to The Hare with Amber Eyes, a rich, engaging, moving narrative that is at once a family chronicle and a cultural and political history of our times.

Nonfiction works seldom get more than four stars from me because they rarely have the literary quality that places them in my top ranks. To rate five stars, a novel has to blow me away. This does not mean that I think it's flawless; in fact, it can have plain flaws and still earn a 5 or a 4½. But in addition to warranting superlatives in the basic elements of character, plot, setting, theme, and literary style, it has to show me an ineffable quality of artistry that sets it apart--an innate magnificence that can't be reduced to numbers or items on a checklist.

It's all but impossible for a work of nonfiction to do this, although there are always a few that seem remarkable enough to me to set and even exceed their own standards.

The Hare with Amber Eyes possesses that literary quality. I found it affecting, touching, emotionally laden, fraught, understated, poignant. It exhibits both a broad scope and a fine focus. The author speaks in deft, evocative, and occasionally lyrical prose, reflecting an artist's eye for proportion, relationship, composition, context, juxtaposition, and the power of a silent statement. The language evinces not only the author's intellectual confidence but also his confidence in the reader, who is presumed to be both educated and cultivated. A shared body of knowledge, an understanding of terminology, and a familiarity with certain names are taken for granted; if we're not quite up to the author's use of French or mention of known figures in the arts, we can quietly Google them while taking de Waal's presumptions as a compliment.

The structure of the book follows from the author's initial intent to recount the history of a family-owned collection of netsuke, small, delicately carved Japanese ornaments acquired during the 19th-century rage in Europe for all things Japanese. He explains the 1870s craze in part by the fact that its foreignness put enthusiasts on an equal footing: "For with Japanese art there was an exhilarating lack of connoisseurship, none of the enmeshed knowledge of art historians to confound your immediate responses, your intuitions." (page 49)

Organizing a personal narrative around a concrete object entailed not only reconstructing a history from family documents, photographs, and lore but executing a skillful blend of objective historical facts and an artist's imagination. Late in the narrative (page 342), De Waal writes: "I no longer know if this book is about my family, or memory, or myself, or is still a book about small Japanese things."

Indeed, the scale of these exquisite miniatures, of which the hare with amber eyes is one, invites close examination. Their smallness creates a feeling of intimacy that permeates the book. Somehow the author conveys a sense of speaking privately about private things rather than of addressing a global audience.

Yet the netsuke are not the central image of the book. The central image is the vitrine.

A vitrine is a glass display case (vitre: pane of glass), a cabinet that consists of transparent windows and doors. Says de Waal (page 66): "But the vitrine--as opposed to the museum's case--is for opening. And that opening glass door and the moment of looking, then choosing, and then reaching in and then picking up is a moment of seduction, an encounter between a hand and an object that is electric." The visual becomes tactile, and in that instant it also becomes personal.

The act of looking and actively seeing drives the book. In all forms, page after page, we have windows, glass, prospects, views, framing, panoramas, inventories, images, paintings, sculptures, art, photographs, perspectives. It is this sensory engagement of the reader that makes the reader not so much a consumer of words as a sharer of visions. Those visions, laden with the author's own memory and palpable ties to a lost way of life, seem almost to plant memories in the mind of the reader and draw out the same sense of pride and loss, rooted in whatever parallels have meaning to us.

In my estimation, the greatest shortcoming of this work is the lack of an index. I would have found it helpful at many points to be able to refer back to names, dates, and places to help me retain a sense of the manifold threads and connections that run through the narrative. I would also have welcomed many more photographs.

If you have read the book, you might also enjoy this talk given by the author at the Palace Ephrussi in Vienna where so much of the story takes place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8wqJINrGj0 ( )
  Meredy | Jun 18, 2014 |
I don't remember how I came to reserve this book at the library; indeed I was surprised when I received the notice that it was in, since the title meant nothing to me. In any case, this is a most fascinating book. Edmund de Waal is a professional potter; he makes fine porcelain objects; he has studied his art in Japan; as it turns out, he is also the scion of a quite illustrious & once fabulously wealthy European family, the Ephrussi (originally Efrussi from Berdichev, then Odessa).
de Waal writes a biography/ memoir about his father's maternal ancestors, starting with Charles Joachim Ephrussi born in Berdichev, who becomes a prosperous grain merchant in Odessa. The family then branches out into banking and across Europe, with one son Leon sent to Paris & the other Ignace established in Vienna. The story that most concerns de Waal, however, really starts with the third generation, with Charles Ephrussi (art collector, art revue editor and publisher, associate of artists such as Degas & Renoir, writers such as Proust & various & sundry intellectuals and bon vivants of the Belle Epoque in Paris) who arrived in Paris in 1871 at the age of 22. de Waal traces his father's family history by following the trajectory of a collection of Japanese netsuke as they pass from Charles, who originally acquires them during one of the earlier waves of japonisme to hit Paris, to Charle's younger cousin Viktor and Viktor's much younger wife, Emmy Schey von Koromla in Vienna. Received as a wedding gift, the 264 netsuke in their vitrine reside while in Vienna in Emmy's dressing room. There they are taken down to be played with on the rug by her children Elisabeth (Edmund de Waal's grandmother), Gisela and Ignace, while Emmy dresses for the evening. In 1938, after the Anschluss, the Ephrussi palace on the Ringstrasse in Vienna is thoroughly rifled and pillaged by the Nazis. The family disperses across Europe & America. Fortunes are demolished & art collections become irretrievable. The netsuke are surreptitiously rescued and hidden by Anna, Emmy's servant of many years. Anna, about whom little is known, hides the netsuke in her mattress in the secret part of the house that has been the servants' quarters. After the war, she returns a suitcase full of these small precious objects to Elisabeth, who takes them with her to England, where she, her husband and children (Edmund's father Victor) and her father Viktor now reside. Thus, the netsuke come to be among the very few possessions to remain in a family whose collections of art and libraries of rare books were once legendary. From England the netsuke travel back to Japan in the company of Iggie, Elisabeth's younger brother, who ends up residing there under American occupation (he acquires & then relinquishes US citizenship) until his death in 1994. It is there, in his Great-Uncle Iggie's house in Tokyo, that Edmund first encounters the netsuke and it is to Edmund that the collection is bequeathed after Iggie's death. Once again, returning to London, the netsuke are on the move, much like the family in whose trust they have been for over 100 years, the diaspora of objects mirroring the diaspora of peoples, in particular that of Eastern and Central European Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries.
I found it fascinating to contemplate the possibility of belonging to a family that one could research in archives, museums and libraries, for example a great-great uncle who socialized with Proust, Renoir, et al (an anti-Semite, as it turns out during the Dreyfus affair) among whom the netsuke would have been taken out, passed around and admired. The same ancestor, Charles Ephrussi is assumed to have been one of the model's for Proust's Charles Swann. Edmund's grandmother, Elisabeth, corresponded with the poet Rilke and graduated from the University of Vienna with a doctorate of law degree at a time when women were rarely even admitted to the University. Still, as de Waal seems to imply, it is impossible to know this family from the inside. The closest one comes perhaps is while reading a letter or a diary or while handling an object that someone has touched. Before her death, already an old woman, Elisabeth burns her correspondence with her mother Evelina. There are some things that are to remain forever private, she seems to say. Not to be broken into by nostalgia. So this is finally not THE story of a family, but A story of a family. There are gaps, silences and branches not explored. This is one legacy; there are necessarily multiple ones.





( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
Wonderful book. I just re-read this for book group. I found the parts about Paris a little slow going, but then Vienna and Japan are fascinating and Paris is illuminated in conjunction with the later story. There is such a sense of place and time here and the author's ancestors become real people as we read about them. The author's investigation of his family's past is a personal journey for him. So many people are interested in their genealogy, but few have the wealth of historical resources that de Waal is able to locate. This book is a remarkable confluence of art, history and family, blessed with a man able and willing to spend the time to discover it and share it with us as readers. ( )
  gbelik | Apr 26, 2014 |
A very well written family biography. A job well done by Edmund de Waal including the immersive research. Good that this potter turned writer had a fascinating family story to tell. And good that he didn't drown us with detail, anecdote and geneaology. He picked a good hook in his great uncle's netsuke collection and used it to fill out the personalities and events of four generations. Good also that he put things into historical context. How could we fail to be interested in characters who drank with the impressionists in Paris, lived through Hitler's persecution and war and ended up spread to all corners of the world. ( )
  Steve38 | Apr 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
What happened to the hare with amber eyes, and the carved medlar that almost felt as if it might squish when handled, after their return from Japan? De Waal bought them a secondhand vitrine from the V&A and set it up in his London house, its door unlocked so his own children could play with its contents. "Objects have always been . . . stolen, retrieved and lost. It is how you tell their stories that matters." He has told their story wonderfully. Oh, and this is a beautiful and unusual book, as a physical object. Somebody really cared.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edmund de Waalprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boraso, MarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cohen, MarceloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hilzensauer, BrigitteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnová, LucieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lempens, WillekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miró, CarlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prosperi, CarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rugstad, ChristianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sasada, MasakoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'Even when one is no longer attached to things, it's still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn't grasp...Well, now that I'm a little too weary to live with other people, these old feelings, so personal and individual, that I had in the past, seem to me - it's a mania for all collectors - very precious. I open my heart to myself like a sort of vitrine, and examine one by one all those love affairs of which the world can know nothing. And of this collection to which I'm now much more attached than to my others, I say to myself, rather as Mazarin said of his books, but in fact without the least distress, that it will be very tiresome to have to leave it at all.' Charles Swann.

Marcel Proust, 'Cities of the plain'.
Dedication
For Ben, Matthew and Anna and for my father.
LJCRS Book Fair Selection 2013 - 5774
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In 1991 I was given a two-year scholarship by a Japanese foundation.
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Book description
Contents:

Paris 1871-1899 -- Vienna 1899-1938 -- Vienna Kövecses, Tunbridge Wells, Vienna 1938-1947 -- Tokyo 1947-2001 -- Tokyo, Odessa, London 2001-2009.
Haiku summary
Mansions, power, art / Exile, stolen dignity / Netsuke bear witness (LynnB)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312569378, Paperback)

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: At the heart of Edmund de Waal's strange and graceful family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes, is a one-of-a-kind inherited collection of ornamental Japanese carvings known as netsuke. The netsuke are tiny and tactile--they sit in the palm of your hand--and de Waal is drawn to them as "small, tough explosions of exactitude." He's also drawn to the story behind them, and for years he put aside his own work as a world-renowned potter and curator to uncover the rich and tragic family history of which the carvings are one of the few concrete legacies. De Waal's family was the Ephrussis, wealthy Jewish grain traders who branched out from Russia across the capitals of Europe before seeing their empire destroyed by the Nazis. Beginning with his art connoisseur ancestor Charles (a model for Proust's Swann), who acquired the netsuke during the European rage for Japonisme, de Waal traces the collection from Japan to Europe--where they were saved from the brutal bureaucracy of the Nazi Anschluss in the pockets of a family servant--and back to Japan and Europe again. Throughout, he writes with a tough, funny, and elegant attention to detail and personality that does full justice to the exactitude of the little carvings that first roused his curiosity. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:51 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Traces the parallel stories of nineteenth-century art patron Charles Ephrussi and his unique collection of 360 miniature netsuke Japanese ivory carvings, documenting Ephrussi's relationship with Marcel Proust and the impact of the Holocaust on his cosmopolitan family.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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