The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal


The Hare with Amber Eyes is luscious and rich, like getting lost in an old wardrobe of furs and velvet.

The premise is off-putting; a history of British ceramicist Edmund de Waal’s family through a collection of netsuke, tiny Japanese sculptures, over two centuries. Sounds pretentious and self indulgent- it’s hard to muster up interest in someone else’s dead relatives.

I take it back though.

De Waal is redeemed by the fact that he’s got an incredibly interesting family and a gift for rendering character. It’s better to describe the book as a journey of discovery as we follow him on the trail of his illustrious banking ancestors through Odessa, Paris, Vienna, London and Tokyo. But also through the rise of the mercantile class, the Belle Époque, spectre of antisemitism, outbreak of war and diaspora across the world.

And it’s all true.

Some of the philosophy and postulations on art aren’t for everyone. de Waal sometimes slips into self-conscious literary meanderings about time and symbolic objects which distract from the real meat of the story.

Like the servant who smuggles family treasures in her mattress or the aesthete uncle who inspired Proust- I’m more interested in the collection of memories and colourful characters than the ivory figures.

Read: If you like novels about family sagas.

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