Tag Archives: Edmund De Waal

The Hare With Amber Eyes – Edmund De Waal

There is a very, very tenacious reason for me scheduling a post about this particular book on Easter Sunday. You see I thought instead of bringing you all something about an Easter bunny, I would bring you something about an Easter hare instead. One with amber eyes in fact! Yes today I am going to be adding to the many, many book thoughts about Edmund De Waal’s now hugely successful, mainly by word of mouth before winning the Costa Biography Award, non fiction book ‘The Hare With The Amber Eyes’. A book which I had heard nothing but praise of and after initially not really fancying reading it at all was suddenly desperate to read it as soon as possible and see what the fuss was about.

Having heard so much about ‘The Hare With Amber Eyes’ I was very excited before I had even opened the first page. I loved the idea of the stories behind a collection of over 264 netsuke that Edmund De Waal had inherited, where they had come from, who had owned them before, just how had they ended up in the family etc. I devoured the introduction and thought ‘ooh we are onto a winner here’ De Waal’s writing was quite intimate and you could tell he was passionate to tell the tale of these small ivory and wooden carvings he inherited from his Uncle Iggie, it was also jovial and intriguing at the same time.

We then moved onto Paris between 1871-1899 and one of De Waals ancestors Charles Ephrussi… and here I came a bit of a cropper after a few pages. I suddenly felt I was deluged by facts and places and people and I began to realise that I didn’t really know what the heck was going on. Where were all these netsuke, why was Renoir suddenly appearing all the time? So I popped the book down and had a re-think, this clearly wasn’t going to be the novel I had expected; this wasn’t a fast paced read (the assumption I had made, as I don’t only read fact paced reads, from everything I had read) at all. This was a book you needed to devour slowly and let it take you off on tangents and tell you about places and people you could then go off and find out more about. Once I had this in mind I had far more success with the first part of the book.

The book took off even more for me when we moved to Vienna in the leading up to the Second World War. This was quite a difficult part of the book; you could rush it because Edmund makes it incredibly readable but try not to for it to have its full affect, as the family were Jewish but the tale of how the netsuke survived the Nazi’s is quite incredible as is the tale of the families efforts to survive and what they resorted in. I could actually go on and on but I think to know too much about this book and the journey of both family and netsuke would be to do you our of a compelling read, so I shall hold off from saying much more.

What are the negatives? The initial one for me was the books tagline. I have seen it labelled as ‘a family’s century of art and loss’ which far better sums up the book than ‘a hidden inheritance’ in my personal opinion and sets the readers expectations slightly better. Whilst there is some mystery its not that hidden and I think knowing you are in for a book which does feature a family’s incredible tale whilst filled with so much art (I know I should have guessed that as Edmund De Waal is a very famous potter) that you know what your getting a little bit more before you read on. This is a small issue though in the grand scheme of things.

The other slight negative was also oddly a positive for me in the end but I could imagine would put some people off this book early on. There is almost too much to take in and learn on occasion along side the family tree and who knows who and why. Some of it like the the ‘Japonisme’ movement in France in the late 1800s which I knew nothing about, and seeing WWII from a different angle was utterly fascinating. I did feel now and again that whilst we live in the age of the internet (and more importantly the reference library) it seemed to disturb the momentum of the book when I had to go off and look up another artist or another place despite De Waal explaining and there being illustrations in the book too. It did in the end however make for a very rewarding, and rather educational without being dull, read I can imagine that some people would give up or feel De Waal expects his readers to know a heck of a lot about people such as Renoir etc before opening the first page.

‘The Hare With The Amber Eyes’ is so much more than a tale of a collection of netsuke and where they have been before, and this for me was even more interesting than the original concept when I got my head around it, it’s a tale of a family through decades and decades and one that leads you on so many more journeys (emotional, eye opening and intriguing) as you read. It’s a book to read slowly discovering as you go and ending up having had quite an unusual reading experience. 8.5/10

Who else has tried this book? Was it the rewarding experience I found it or did you struggle? Which other non fiction books about family histories I might have missed would you recommend?

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Filed under Edmund De Waal, Non Fiction, Review, Vintage Books

February’s Incomings…

I do love those lists that some bloggers have down the side of their blogs where  the jacket covers of all the incomings that they have received or are receiving as the weeks go on can be seen. Sadly, though I am sure that there is one on wordpress, I have no idea how to do such a thing and as I started one last month I thought I would do another end of month post (which might become a monthly feature) of the books that have arrived this month. Now if you don’t like these sort of posts fear not as you can discuss the pro’s and con’s of big books with me today on this post here instead. However if you love these posts, as I do on other blogs, then lets take a gander at what has been quite a crop of books.

First up it’s the hardbacks and as you will see while a lot of books do come from publishers some are treats from other lovely people, or simply treats from me.

  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – This is a book I had been told was winging its way to me and I got very excited about and then the mail man mislaid it. Now it’s here and over the next week or so I am going to be throwing myself into Russia which is a country that fascinates me and yet I know very, very little about. I am wondering if the atmosphere, which is meant to be incredible in this novel, will send me off to read some of the Russian greats.
  • Beautiful Forever by Helen Rappaport – This came out last year and is non-fiction about “Madame Rachel of Bond Street – cosmetician, con-artist and blackmailer” true life Victorian dastardly goings on, what could be more me. This was a belated Xmas pressie from my mother which she brought down last week.
  • One of Our Tuesdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde – The latest Thursday Next novel and a timely reminder I need to start at the beginning (I wanted to see him at Waterstones tomorrow but I will be in hospital, grrr).
  • The Tenderloin by John Butler – a Green Carnation Prize submission from Picador.
  • The Path of Minor Planets by Andrew Sean Greer – One of Faber and Faber’s entries for the Green Carnation Prize. (Publishers are really onto it early this year – hoorah!)
  • Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry – I bought this at Sainsbury’s for £3 on a whim as thought might make me laugh at hospital.
  • Sleeping With Mozart by Anthea Church – I was thrilled when Virago got in touch and asked me to read this but sadly I didn’t care for it much and as I don’t like doing negative reviews it’s leaving me in a real quandary, to write about or not to write about? Hmmm!
  • Darkside by Belinda Bauer – I loved Belinda’s debut ‘Blacklands’ and having been in a crime mood this was ideal. Thoughts will be up tomorrow (if everything works right) on this murder mystery.
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen – After reading ‘Water for Elephants’ for book group and loving it, I am thrilled that Sarah’s publishers Two Roads wanted me to give her latest a whirl.
  • Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones – This is the second Faber entry for the Green Carnation so far and its HUGE (I am talking big books later) and one I am looking forward to as it’s the sequel to the rather marvellous ‘Pilcrow’ though I will be judging it as a stand alone book of course.

Phew that’s quite a few. Onto paperbacks which have been arriving thick and fast. I haven’t included the Jo Nesbo parcel which arrived and I mentioned before, nor have I included the two rather large shopping spree’s which I undertook in February both on a visit to Granny Savidge in Matlock and on a day out in Yorkshire earlier this month. Shame on me, still somehow I managed to buy a few in this lot too.

  • Through The Wall by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – The lovely Novel Insights brought me this Penguin Mini Classic last week on a visit as she thought it would be right up my street. I have a feeling she will be spot on.
  • Heat & Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – A booker prize charity shop find for 50p. I have said I do intend to read all the winners at some point and have devoured this one so expect thoughts soon.
  • The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – I really enjoyed ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ when I read it last year and actually chattered and nattered to Natasha when she was working on this one so I know a bit about the plot and it sounded fascinating so I have everything crossed this will be a corker.
  • The Bride That Time Forgot by Paul Magrs – The latest Brenda and Effie adventure in paperback, again reminding me I am slightly behind with this series. I also have a spare so expect a give away at some point.
  • Where The Serpent Lives by Ruth Padel – I know nothing of this book but isn’t she the lady that caused a lot of controversy over something and nothing?
  • South Riding by Winifred Holtby – I have devoured this one and my thoughts on it are here.
  • The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee – Another book I know nothing about but having read the quotes and page 29 (all the blurb says is ‘read page 29’) this looks like it could be an astounding book.
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – As you will all know I loved ‘Room’ and this is a reissued copy of her earlier historical novel (I am hoping it’s a Victorian romp) which I am excited about. I have already got an American edition of this which I am now handing over to Granny Savidge Reads who, after reading ‘Room’, is a Donoghue fan too.
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal – I so wasn’t bothered about this when it came out but since winning the Costa Prize and having heard about it all over the place when it arrived I was super chuffed and have started dipping into it already.
  • The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins – I do like true historical crime, modern stuff makes me feel uncomfortable in general – too close to home maybe, but this sounds like its right up my street. Maybe not one to read in the bath though?
  • 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan – I bought this in Sainsbury’s, bad me, partly because the cover is so good and also thinking it was non-fiction from the blurb, wrong. I will give it a whirl though and see.
  • Half a Life by Darin Strauss – A memoir about accidental murder. I had to sign a confidence clause before I could get the proof for this and then forgot the date had been and gone so will schedule my thoughts to be shared soon.
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy – I have already read this, however it’s a book group choice in the next few months and I’d had mine signed for my Gran so a new one has magically turned up. I am actually really looking forward to re-reading this one even so soon after I originally did.
  • Dog Binary by Alex MacDonald – I don’t know anything about this, it came with Half a Life.
  • Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid – I am hoping this is another entry for the Green Carnation Prize as we do want a mixture of genres, I don’t think the other judges have had this one though so I will have to check. I have heard McDermid is very good at murder so this should be good.

So lots of books to read while I am in waiting rooms, hospital wards and in bed when I get home over the next few weeks or so which is an utter delight. I wonder how much of a dent in them I will make. I also really need to have a fresh cull and clear out too. It never stops. Have you read any of these books and if so what did you think? Any you would like to see me give priority to if the whim takes me?

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Filed under Book Thoughts