Torea Frey

Editor, writer, photographer, observer on the street.

The Hare with Amber Eyes

I'm terribly behind the curve on this, but I'm loving Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss. I'd probably progress more quickly through it if I wasn't turning to the Internet at the end of every chapter, seeking out images of the paintings he describes or looking at netsuke on de Waal's Web site and on Google Images to get a feel for the lovely little objects that are the center of the story. 

What's it about? Well, says the jacket cover:

The Ephrussis were a grand banking family, as rich and respected as the Rothschilds, who "burned like a comet" in nineteenth-century Paris and Vienna society. Yet by the end of World War II, almost the only thing remaining of their vast empire was a collection of 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox.

The renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal became the fifth generation to inherit this small and exquisite collection of netsuke. Entranced by their beauty and mystery, he determined to trace the story of his family through the story of the collection.

I'm still looking for a facsimile of the portrait of Louise Cahen d'Anvers by Paul Borget, but the Internet doesn't have all the answers. Still, there is something thrilling about being able to see Monet's La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume), below left, and James Tissot's La Japonaise au bain, below right, alongside de Waal's discussion of the Japonisme that took hold in the latter half of the 19th century.

In the prologue, de Waal describes spending time with his great-uncle Iggie, the keeper of the netsuke for a time: "I liked the way that repetition wore things smooth, and there was something of the river stone to [his] stories." Repetitive the text is not, but there is solace in the easy progression of the prose; I can't help but think of one of my favorite David Berkeley songs, and though it has little bearing on the text, it's nice to take a listen, glory in the way these vastly different places and times end up with similar themes.