Hi book lovers– It seems like some of my favorite books are ones that come handed over with good recommendations from trusty reading friends. The other night I was sitting down to dinner when the doorbell rang. I thought– who on earth could that be??
I opened the door and there was Janet, book in hand. She thrust it at me and exclaimed, “Here, you GOT to read this!!” And she turn on her heel and headed home. She was so right.
Her recommendation was The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, a British ceramicist. He comes from a notable dynasty of Jewish bankers that started their fortune in Odessa, Russian in the 1700’s and spread across Europe to Paris and Vienna. de Waal traces the family and particularly a collection of 264 Japanese small wood and ivory carvings, netsuke, passed through the generations.
Charles Ephrussis, the original owner of the figures, edited a Parisian Art Journal and shared his salon with notable impressionists. His image appears in Renoir’s painting, The Boating Party and he befriends Proust in the late 1800’s. Charles passes the figures on to a nephew who becomes fabulously wealthy as a banker in Vienna. The author’s impeccable research draws you in to their family and life of palatial luxury–until it all comes to an end with WWII. Their house and possessions taken, they flee Vienna. But through an curious turn of events, the Japanese carvings are saved–and in the end passed on to the family.
I loved that I felt a part of de Wall’s ferreting out his family’s history, sharing his search and understanding the complex and fascinating people in his family tree. His precision and detail draw you into this evocative story. It’s my favorite book of this year. Thanks Janet!