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The Hare With the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

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The Hare With the Amber Eyes

An unforgettable family memoir

Edmund de Waal’s moving exhibition The Library of Exile at the British Museum has reminded me of his magnificent book The Hare With the Amber Eyes which has stayed with me ever since I read it in 2011. If you haven’t read it yet, now would be a perfect time. It’s a memoir of de Waal’s family, the Ephrussis, Jewish bankers, grain traders and intellectuals. Pillars of early 20th century Viennese society and possessors of unimaginable wealth; grand palaces in Vienna, pink chateaus on the Cote d’Azure and priceless art collections. Then came Hitler. The Hare With the Amber Eyes is an absorbing book, not only in learning about the tragic destiny of the Ephrussis but also to understand central Europe in the run up to the Second World War. An absolute must-read.

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Six Books for Summer

It’s been a long, strange year and summer holidays can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned. Luckily there now seems to be light at the end of the tunnel and some sort of new normality feels within reach. I’ve struggled to find books that excite me lately and have noticed I’ve veered towards lighter reads which should tie in well with some beach reading. Here are the ones that captured my imagination. Happy summer!

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Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal

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Letters to Camondo

A thing of beauty

The Hare With the Amber Eyes transported us to the rarefied world of the unimaginably wealthy Ephrussi family. Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal follows another Jewish family, the Camondos, neighbours of the Ephrussis and, eventually, family by marriage. In 1936, following the death of Count de Camondo’s only son, their grand residence was donated to Paris as museum and remains untouched to this day. This is their story.

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Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig

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The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Bringing order to the wilderness inside our heads

Curiously beautiful and unique, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig is that rare thing, a book you didn’t know you needed but one destined to bag a lifelong space on your bookshelf. A dictionary in six parts, Koenig’s labour of love is a compendium of new words for emotions. Woven from fragments of a hundred different languages, these are words that give expression to those thoughts and feelings that hover ‘on the cusp of language.’ In the vein of established words like schadenfreude and hygge, they convey the universal experiences that we cannot adequately articulate alone.

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Christ on a Bike by Orla Owen

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Christ on a Bike

A twisty psychological tale of envy, materialism and neurosis

Seemingly set to wear the generation rent label into middle age, Cerys is stuck on the London treadmill of extortionate rents and squishing on the Central Line every morning for the pleasure of working a 50-hour week. Her uptight sister, Seren, believes Cerys is doomed to an impoverished old age due to sheer imprudence. Everything changes one drizzly day in Wales, when an act of kindness on Cerys’ part results in her inheriting a fabulous coastal property and a generous income for life. There is, of course, a grimly clever catch, and Christ on a Bike by Orla Owen presents a twisty psychological tale of envy, materialism and neurosis.

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Under the Hornbeams by Emma Tarlo

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Under the Hornbeams

The sages of Regent’s Park

Both fantastical and true, Under the Hornbeams by Emma Tarlo tells the story of her friendship with two men who live under the trees of a famous London park. In this lovely, life-affirming book, Tarlo recounts her introduction to self-proclaimed hobos, Nick and Pascal, in the early months of the Covid pandemic. As they share food, thoughts and confidences against the peculiarly constrictive backdrop of a national lockdown, she is compelled to reconsider notions of freedom and fulfilment.

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Ice by Anna Kavan

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Ice

A hallucinatory journey into eternal winter

A nameless man of military persuasion is in pursuit of a silvery-haired girl; tracking her across an unearthly white snowscape, he is intent on possessing her in more ways than one. We will never learn his name, the girl’s name, or even their location. In the 1967 dystopian classic, Ice by Anna Kavan, we’re taken to a frigid, blanched world that is being engulfed by avalanches of ice and snow, the cause of which appears to be unknown. As society breaks down under the weight of misinformation, fuel and food shortages and the inexorable advance of icy doom, the girl keeps running and the man keeps pursuing.

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What You Need To Be Warm by Neil Gaiman

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What You Need to be Warm

The gift of warmth this winter

In 2020, as winter approached, Neil Gaiman made a special request to his legions of social media followers, asking them to share memories that reminded them of warmth. Answers ranged from the pleasure of a baked potato on a chilly night, to the less tangible comfort of a smile from a stranger. In a bid to draw attention to those left out in the cold, particularly those fleeing from war or persecution, he wove these ideas into a scarf, a film, and here, casting a welcome glow, is the book, What You Need to be Warm by Neil Gaiman.

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Wonder - The Natural Museum Poetry Book by Ana Sampson

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Wonder – The Natural History Museum Poetry Book

Honouring a cathedral to nature

Opening its doors for the first time on Easter Monday 1881, the beautiful Natural History Museum in London was conceived as nothing less than a ‘cathedral to nature.’ Today, its galleries continue to brim with treasures, from the tiniest specks of DNA to the bones of the colossal blue whale. In Wonder – The Natural History Museum Poetry Book by Ana Sampson, a glorious selection of poems inspired by the natural world is created, and even the great museum itself.

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Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

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Split Tooth

Mesmerising indigenous Arctic tale

A bildungsroman unlike any other, Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq takes us to the Canadian Arctic and a landscape of boundless terrain and immense skies. It’s the 1970’s and a young Inuk girl tells of her childhood in this extraordinary environment, where deprivation and discrimination sit uneasily beside a magical northern world of nature and mythology. When puberty arrives, it will bestow a shamanic gift upon the girl and prompt her, incredibly, to seek communion with the Northern Lights.

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