The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010) Edmund de Waal
‘But some objects do seem to retain the pulse of their own making…this pulse intrigues me.’
This memoir is an homage to the successes and tragedies experienced by de Waal’s family over the decades since 1870 to the present. It is memoir as tribute, an admiration for the highly skilled craftsmen of the netsuke, the small, oval carvings which depict various aspects of ordinary human and animal life.
The constant shifting of focus between the movement of international events, through to detailed descriptions of the finest creative art works of the period, distinguish this memoir. De Waal is acutely aware of not wanting a ‘misery memoir,’ instead using detailed narratives of the Ephrussi family and vivid portraits of a range of fascinating characters such as Elizabeth etc whom the writer brings vividly to life in a finely crafted portaits. De Waal’s restrained critique of the virulent rise of anti-semitism, which was to haunt his family from the inception of the story, highlights the tragic susceptibility of the Austrians to anti-semite propaganda. He shows, with marked refinement, how this powerfully and tragically influenced a young Austrian painter, Adolf Hitler.
‘All across Vienna doors are broken down, as children hide behind their parents, under beds, in cupboards – anywhere to get away from the noise as fathers and mothers are arrested and beaten up and pulled outside into trucks, as mothers and sisters are abused. And across Vienna people help themselves to what should be theirs, is theirs by right.’
Given the shattering events of World War Two for his family, the netsuke become symbolic of the enduring qualities of ordinary life connections, rendered finely and with incredible forbearance, by both the netsuke craftsmen and the troubled, quarrelsome artists of the era. For de Waal, as a nationally acclaimed artist, these artifacts represent the eternal values of love, the joy of artistic creation, the importance of social connections, and the ability of fine art to lift our eyes to honour our past and rise above tragedy.
‘There are the places in memory you do not wish to go with others…the problem is that I am in the wrong century to burn things. I am the wrong generation to let it go.’