The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss

Farrar, Straus and Giroux  2010

 
In the mid-19th century the Ephrussi family, who made their fortune as grain importers, sent their two eldest sons from Odessa to expand their reach into banking and building in Western Europe.

Ignace and Leon settled into a mansion in Vienna and set to work, establishing their families and building new fortunes. A decade later, Leon moved to Paris and established himself there. With their wealth the Ephrussi brothers gained power, and their ability to build and to buy resulted in vast collections of art, and a palace or two, enabling them to surround themselves with the great artistic and literary talents of the day.

In the next generation it was Charles Ephrussi who assembled not only classical and impressionist art, but also Japanese gold and black lacquer boxes and the miniature carvings known as netsuke. His collection of these ivory figurines was among the few art collections that survived the black years of Nazi power, and was subsequently inherited by the author, inspiring his research into his family’s history and this book.

The remarkable Ephrussi family and their accomplishments have been given new life by de Waal, who has written with verve and exactness of the art and excitement of their lives, and the brief century of power they enjoyed. He also relates how the bright light of Jewish life and culture was almost extinguished by the Nazi evil, which swept away not only the little Jewish villages, but also the mansions and palaces erected by Jewish wealth.

He tells how the netsuke were saved by a servant of the family, who carried them out of the palace, now Nazi headquarters, one piece at a time, dangerously in her pocket.

The author rests his story in London, where he keeps the netsuke in a vitrine, allowing his readers to decipher the symbolism they represent.

Discussion Questions

The Hare With Amber Eyes Guide has been compiled by Chatto & Windus, to give you more information about the book, Edmund, the netsuke and more. Download it here.

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