Sunday, February 5, 2012

The hare with the amber eyes: a hidden inheritance

When Edmund De Waal inherited a collection of 264 Japanese netsuke he decided to investigate the story of how these small carved wood and ivory objects came to his family. Several years of investigation led not only to uncovering the story of the netsuke but several generations of his family history. The story began in Odessa, Russia, but as the family business expanded family members settled in and established homes and offices in Paris and Vienna. The first collector of the netsuke lived in Paris but the collection moved to Vienna when he gave them to a family member as a wedding present. Eventually the collection returned to Japan before travelling to London when bequeathed to the author.

This is not just the story of objects. It is also a family history - the story of a wealthy Jewish business family living in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and then in the twentieth century. These initially were good times but became turbulent times with growing prejudice against Jews in Paris and Vienna followed by two wars and the devastation that followed. The book describes what is is like living in a city besieged by war during World War I and then the need for Jewish families to flee from the Germans to safe countries with the approach of the Second World War. There are graphic descriptions of the need for decisions to be made but the inability of especially older people to finally make the break with their country. When one family member moved to Japan after the Second World War the book describes the devastation of war in that country and the comparison of the attitudes of the Japanese to the situation to that of the Americans occupying the country.

There has been a great deal of publicity about The hare with the amber eyes since it was published in 2010. I am glad that I have finally had the opportunity to read it.

No comments: