Copyright © 2010 by Edmund de Waal
All rights reserved
Originally published in 2010 by Chatto
The Hare with Amber Eyes
1. LE WEST END
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.
A delivery man carries boxes of Speedy-Go Pizza into the medical insurers. The door into the entrance hall is open. I walk into the hall, its staircase curling up like a coil of smoke through the whole house, black cast iron and gold filigree stretching up to a lantern at the top. There is a marble urn in a deep niche, chequerboard marble tiles. Executives are coming down the stairs, heels hard on marble, and I retreat in embarrassment. How can I start to explain this idiotic quest? I stand in the street and watch the house and take some photographs, apologetic Parisians ducking past me. House-watching is an art. You have to develop a way of seeing how a building sits in its landscape or streetscape. You have to discover how much room it takes up in the world, how much of the world it displaces. Number 81, for instance, is a house that cannily disappears into its neighbours: there are other houses that are grander, some are plainer, but few are more discreet.
I look up at the second-floor windows where Charles had his suite of rooms, some of which looked across the street to the more robustly classical house opposite, some across the courtyard into a busy roofscape of urns and gables and chimneypots. He had an antechamber, two salons – one of which he turned into his study – a dining-room, two bedrooms and a 'petite'. I try to work it out; he and his older brother Ignace must have had neighbouring apartments on this floor, their elder brother Jules and their widowed mother Mina below, with the higher ceilings and grander windows and the balconies on which, on this April morning, there are now some rather leggy red geraniums in plastic pots. The courtyard of the house was glazed, according to the city records, though all that glass is long gone. And there were five horses and three carriages in these stables which are now a...
Author: Edmund de Waal
Edmund de Waal's porcelain has been displayed in many museum collections around the world, and he has recently made an installation for the dome of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He was apprenticed as a potter, studied in Japan, and studied English at Cambridge. He is Professor of Ceramics at the University of Westminster and lives in London with his family.
"Enthralling . . . [de Waal's] essayistic exploration of his family's past pointedly avoids any sentimentality . . . The Hare with Amber Eyes belongs on the same shelf with Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
"At one level [Edmund de Waal] writes in vivid detail of how the fortunes were used to establish the Ephrussis' lavish lives and high positions in Paris and Vienna society. And, as Jews, of their vulnerability: the Paris family shaken by turn-of-the century anti-Semitism surging out of the Dreyfus affair; the Vienna branch utterly destroyed in Hitler's 1937 Anschluss . . . At a deeper level, though, Hare is about something more, just as Marcel Proust's masterpiece was about something more than the trappings of high society. As with Remembrance of Things Past, it uses the grandeur to light up interior matters: aspirations, passions, their passing; all in a duel, and a duet, of elegy and irony." - Richard Eder, The Boston Globe
"Absorbing . . . In this book about people who defined themselves by the objects they owned, de Waal demonstrates that human stories are more powerful than even the greatest works of art." - Adam Kirsch, The New Republic
"Delicately constructed and wonderfully nuanced . . . There are many family memoirs whose stories are as enticing as Edmund de Waal's. There are few, though, whose raw material has been crafted into quite such an engrossing and exquisitely written book as The Hare with Amber Eyes . . . One of the great triumphs of The Hare with Amber Eyes . . . is not just the assiduous way in which de Waal interrogates his raw evidence--scattered articles and newspaper cuttings, old paintings, forgotten buildings--but the way he summons up different eras so evocatively . . . [De Waal] is, too, as you would expect of a potter, wonderfully tactile in his investigations, interrogating the physical feel of the Ephrussis' different buildings, touching surfaces, assessing materials. This sensuality transmits itself also to his prose, which is beautiful to read--lithe and precise, crisp and delicate. The result is a memoir of the very first rank, one full of grace, economy, and extraordinary emotion." - Andrew Holgate, The Barnes & Noble Review
"Remarkable . . . To be handed a story as durable and exquisitely crafted as this is a rare pleasure . . . Like the netsuke themselves, this book is impossible to put down. You have in your hands a masterpiece." - Frances Wilson, The Sunday Times (London)
"From a hard and vast archival mass of journals, memoirs, newspaper clippings and art-history books, Mr. de Waal has fashioned, stroke by minuscule stroke, a book as fresh with detail as if it had been written from life, and as full of beauty and whimsy as a netsuke from the hands of a master carver. Buy two copies of his book; keep one and give the other to your closest bookish friend." - The Economist
"What a treat of a book! It projects an iridescent mirage that once was real, a pageant of exquisite fragility, an aesthetic passion somehow surviving the brutalities of history. Mr. de Waal's nostalgia is tart, tactile, marvelously nuanced." - Frederic Morton, author of A Nervous Splendor: Vienna, 1888/1889 and The Rothschilds: Portrait of
"A self-questioning, witty, sharply perceptive book . . . The Hare with Amber Eyes is rich in epiphanic moments . . . By writing objects into his family story [de Waal] has achieved something remarkable." - Tanya Harrod, The Times Literary Supplement
"A beautiful and unusual book . . . [A] unique memoir of [de Waal's] family . . . De Waal has a mystical ability to so inhabit the long-gone moment as to seem to suspend inexorable history, personal and impersonal . . . A work that succeeds in several known genres: as family memoir, travel literature (de Waal's Japan is the nearest thing to being there, and over decades), essays on migration and exile, on cultural misperceptions, and on de Waal's attempt to define his relationship with his own kaolin creations. His book is also a new genre, unnamed and maybe unnameable." - Veronica Horwell, The Guardian
"Part family memoir, part Proustian confession, subtle, spare and elegant." - Hilary Spurling, The Independent
"A marvelously absorbing synthesis of art history, detective story and memoir . . . A nimble history of one of the richest European families at - Kirkus Reviews