Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hare with Amber Eyes

Title: Hare with Amber Eyes
Author:  Edmund de Waal
Publication Information:  Farrar, Straus, and Grioux. 2010. 354 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Favorite Quote:  "How objects are handed on is all about story-telling. I am giving you this because I love you Or because it was given to me. Because I bought it somewhere special. Because you will care for it. Because it will complicate your life. Because it will make someone else envious. There is no easy story in legacy. What is remembered and what is forgotten?"

The 'hare with amber eyes' refers to one of the 264 pieces of a netsuke collection that belongs to Edmund de Waal's family. Netsuke are miniature sculptures from Japan. They were bought by one of Edmund de Waal's ancestors in the nineteenth century and brought to Europe. From there, they were given as a wedding gift to another family member.

They stayed with the family in Vienna until World War II. During the war, the family lost much of what it had - including their home - to the Nazis. A maid named Anna, however, managed to save the netsuke collection by secreting it away in her mattress while she remained in the house during the Nazi occupation.

After the war, she managed to return them to the Edmund de Waal's family. His uncle took possession and brought them back to Japan when he relocated there. Upon his uncle's death, Edmund became the caretaker of the collection. As a ceramist, Edmund de Waal's interest is in the art of the netsuke. As their inheritor, his interest is in preserving the history of the collection and thereby the history of his own family. As he says in the book, "Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost. People have always given gifts. It is how you tell their stories that matters."

I read this book as this month's selection for my book club. This book is a perfect example of why I so enjoy being in a book club. With the different backgrounds and interests in our book club, we end up with entirely different books depending on who is picking.

I don't think I would have discovered this book without this book club. I don't read much about art history, and I was not familiar with Edmund de Waal, his family history, or his work before reading the book. The book is long and quite detailed. I did find myself skimming through sections, but at the same time, I found myself doing research online to learn more. It is an interesting combination of wanting the book to move faster but yet wanting to know more.

I don't think I would have read the book if it were not a book club selection, but I am glad I read it. It made for a good story, and I learned a lot.

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