With the advent of Spring at last, our attention to family histories
may contact memoirs depicting past seasons and times.....
And searching for ways to determine more facts about our
One memoir I enjoyed reading is THE HARE
WITH AMBER EYES:
by Edmund DeWaal.
Published by Picador,2010,
paperback. 351 p. No Index.
The author inherited a collection of 264 nesukes ---
"hidden" inheritance that
will fascinate and enhance readers in this entirely unique story of one
from rags to riches, to the Nazi camps,
this collection and the family survived.
A potter and leading ceramist, Edmund DeWaal received a 2-year
scholarship in 1991 to Japan to study folk crafts and other things there.
He spent time one afternoon a week with his great uncle Iggie Ephrussi who displayed
this nesuke collection to him.
DeWaal was particularly attracted to "the hare with amber eyes."
It was during these visits that DeWaal learned more about his family history, and the origins of this collection. Thus his initial attraction to the collection grew. In 1994, his Uncle Iggie died and
DeWaal learns he will inherit this collection from
his uncle's heir.
The memoir is divided into four parts set in different time periods and places: Part 1 (Paris (1871-1899)
; Part 2 Vienna (1899-1938); Part 3 (1938-
1947); and Part 4 (1947-2011). So the nesuke's story begins in Paris with the original collector,
Charles Ephrussi, a cousin to the author's great grandfather, Viktor von Ephrussi. Charles gave
the collection to Viktor and his wife as a wedding present in 1899. The "bones" of the family odyssey is known to him, but the particulars are Edmund DeWaal's
Charles Ephrussi, the original nekuse collector/owner, moved to Paris where he had his own apartment in the family house. The older sons go into the family business - a bank. Charles is free to pursue his artistic interests with money and time to do so. He becomes a writer on art for The Gazette published monthly. Charles becomes a collector of
Japanisme which includes nesuke. This is a subject that the author, DeWaal, had an interest in writing a book about when he was in Japan.
Later, Charles moves on to Vienna to work in the family bank, now expanding to Vienna an
d London.And his cousin, Viktor and Emmy, are married, receive the nusuke colletion.
Viktor and Emmy live in an apartment in the Palais Ephrussi along the Schotengasse.
It is opposite the main building of the University of Vienna. Viktor's father was Ignace von
Ephrussi, the 2nd -richest banker in Vienna, Ignace had come to Vienna with his parents,
and older brother Leon from Odessa. Ten days after Viktor and Emmy's wedding, his father
died and Viktor inherited the Ephrussi bank responsibilities including the Palais Ephrussi.
Among the young married couples' decisions was what to do with the nesuke collection
and it's display in a "vitrine". And so another era in the collection's history is uncovered.
The "vitrine" is placed in the dressing room of the young baroness (age 18) where it
becomes an object of wonder to her children. Viktor and Emmy are the great-grandparents
of the author, and so the next part of the book must have been very painful to write.
It is the last section of Part 3 that tells of the Nazi occupation of the Ephrussi Palais and
what happened to the nesuke collection. I found this section the most interesting part of the story.
You may think that your family is "different", but this memoir show us how much we
treasure our family collections and what can happen to either preserve or destroy them.
The book is well written with many photographs. It also has a wonderful family tree
at the front of the book to guide readers into all the branches of the family.
A great treasure for the family and for us --readers!