The Hare With Amber Eyes, the story of the Ephrussis family as told through their exquisite collection of Japanese netsuke, seems an unlikely premise for a book. (Netsuke are 17th C Japanese carved, button- like ornaments that attached a purse to the kimono sash.) Coupled with a burdensome title, I can’t imagine anyone picking this one up. (Especially now that there are no bookstores in which to leisurely browse for such an unexpected find! ) Fortunately, my cousin Harriet unearthed this one for me!
The Ephrussis were a wealthy Russian Jewish family who made their first fortune in wheat, but soon moved on Rothschild-like to banking and other ventures. By the mid 19th C, they were known as les rois de ble (“kings of grain.”) In Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis family lived fashionably, built palatially, and collected art. By the end of WWII, however, the netsuke collection was all that remained of the Ephrussis empire.
Author Edmund de Waal, a fifth generation member of the family and celebrated ceramist, pieces together a century of family history by tracing the voyage of the tiny netsuke from Paris, Vienna, England, Japan and back to England .
Mr. de Waal has not written a detailed and expansive family biography in the tradition of David McCullough or Ron Chernow. The Hare With Amber Eyes is an elegant memoir that evokes spirit rather than specifics and explores the appeal of collecting beautiful objects.