Books

The Hare with Amber Eyes

The Hare with Amber Eyes is a book by Edmund de Waal.

Edmund de Waal

Edmund de Waal is a world-famous ceramicist. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots―which are then sold, collected, and handed on―he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive.

And so begins this extraordinarily moving memoir and detective story as de Waal discovers both the story of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. A nineteenth-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothchilds. Yet by the end of the World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire. (From Picador)

Edmud de Waal is an internationally acclaimed ceramicist known for his large-scale porcelain installations. In 2015, de Waal was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction. His writing explores the connection between physical objects and memory.

From the book

One sunny April day I set out to find Charles. Rue de Monceau is a long Parisian street bisected by the grand boulevard Malesherbes that charges off towards the boulevard Pereire. It is a hill of golden stone houses, a series of hotels playing discreetly on neoclassical themes, each a minor Florentine palace with heavily rusticated ground floors and an array of heads, caryatids and cartouches. Number 81 rue de Monceau, the Hôtel Ephrussi, where my netsuke start their journey, is near the top of the hill. I pass the headquarters of Christian Lacroix and then, next door, there it is. It is now, rather crushingly, an office for medical insurance.

It is utterly beautiful. As a boy I used to draw buildings like this, spending afternoons carefully inking in shadows so that you could see the rise and fall of the depth of the windows and pillars. There is something musical in this kind of elevation. You take classical elements and try to bring them into rhythmic life: four Corinthian pilasters rising up to pace the façade, four massive stone urns on the parapet, five storeys high, eight windows wide. The street level is made up of great blocks of stone worked to look as if they have been weathered. I walk past a couple of times and, on the third, notice that there is the double back-to-back E of the Ephrussi family incorporated into the metal grilles over the street windows, the tendrils of the letters reaching into the spaces of the oval. It is barely there. I try to work out this rectitude and what it says about their confidence. I duck through the passageway to a courtyard, then through another arch to a stable block of red brick with servants' quarters above; a pleasing diminuendo of materials and textures.


From The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal ©2010. Published by Picador.

Interviews with Edmund de Waal

The British potter and author discusses his memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes. 53:16
Eleanor Wachtel talks to British ceramicist and award-winning writer Edmund de Waal. His new book, "The White Road: A Journey into Obsession" explores the complicated and, at times, dark history of porcelain. 54:00

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