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.
A collection of netsuke (Japanese miniature sculptures), hidden away in a mattress by a loyal maid, was one of the family’s very few remaining possessions after the war. Passed on to de Waal when his uncle died, the author became curious about the story behind the collection. Tracing its history soon led him to the history of his family and this book is the result. De Waal is a fabulous storyteller that succeeds in blending the personal and the historical. Understandably, it’s an emotional journey and his warm narrator voice makes this so much more than a historical account. The book won multiple awards when it came out and became a bestseller. A real treat.
This book should be read together with Austrian Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday one of my favourite discoveries last year.
The Hare With the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal is published by Vintage, 354 pages.