I had The Hare with Amber Eyes on my bookshelf for about a year and initially, I wasn’t too keen on reading it. Here’s the premise: the author (Edmund de Waal) inherits from his great-uncle 264 netsuke—small wood and ivory carvings from Japan, and he traces their history. For some reason, it didn’t sound that intriguing to me, but then I ran into a colleague slipping away to read during her lunch break: what was the book? The Hare with Amber Eyes.
Curiosity piqued, I dusted off my copy and started in on an amazing journey. De Waal descends from the illustrious Ephrussi family, famous for its vast fortunes in the 19th and early 20th centuries from grain distribution, shipping, and banking. The book is particularly relevant to fans of the Phillips since de Waal starts his story in Paris, in the home of Charles Ephrussi. Familiar with the cast of characters from Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party? Then you’ll recognize Charles as the figure towards the back of the painting wearing a top hat and suit. Ephrussi purchased the netsuke from a dealer in the 1870s, and de Waal’s writing transports us to fin de siècle Paris where we get to know Charles and his circle of luminaries, including Marcel Proust, Édouard Manet, and of course, Renoir. Continue reading