Edmund de Waal is the writer of the fascinating book „THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES“

in which tries not only to explain of how the netsukes (very small objects made by Japanese craftsmen) came into the Ephrussi family but he also writes about the identity of his family, about loss or about  survival of stories.

This is the link to a Hot Potatoes drag & drop exercise which you can correct online.

In this video he starts speaking about the netsukes and their story. The object he is holding in his hand is quite heavy, made of ivory, it’s a well fed or fat hare with self-satisfied amber eyes. It’s from the 19th century Japan or Kyoto. This little carving used to be hanging from a belt.

The writer thinks of going back to when he was 17 years old and when he was being apprenticed as a potter and to the first time he went off to Japan, to pottery villages and  finally turning up at his great uncle Iggie’s, an elderly Jewish gentleman in Tokyo. There were books everywhere and there was also a vitrine which lit up and which was full up of  264 ridiculous little netsukes. In the course of many years Iggie tells Edmund the story  of these tiny things and how they brought him to Tokyo. By the years Edmund gets more and more involved with Japan.

Iggie tells Edmund that he visited his sister Elisabeth in London after having faught in the 2nd world war for the Americans.

He knew that his father had died and his mother had committed suicide in Austria. Iggie and Elisabeth, E. de Waal’s grandmother, spoke about the fact that nothing remained of their family, nothing with what they had grown up with was left, except the netsukes.

The other day I was in London and I saw this copy of Renoir’s famous  painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party” where we can see Charles Ephrussi on the right side at the back the with cylinder.

Iggie doesn’t want to go back to America and does not want to stay in Europe and therefore decides to take the netsukes back home to Japan. There, these objects have an extraordinary life with him, his partner and their friends.

Foto of the Palais in the Ringstrasse,Vienna:

Iggie tells Edmund about how they grew up in Vienna, about the ridiculous Palais in the Ringstrasse, opposite the University. The family was then so rich they had servants for everything and horses. For the children, however, there was only one moment in the day when they could see their mother when she was getting dressed to go out for dinner. She loved to go out and she loved her lovers and Edmund de Waal has now realized that he has cousins all over the world. In the dressing room there was a vitrine and while the maid Anna was dressing Emmy, the key was turned and the children were allowed to play with the netsukes. Only in these magic moments could the children speak to their mother!

But the story starts, in fact, in Paris with Iggie’s uncle Charles who was a famous art collector, art historian and editor and an early mentor of impressionists. It was him who bought the whole vitrine of netsukes and later fell slightly out of love with them and gave them to Emmy and Victor as a wedding gift. The young couple, however, did not know either what to do with these objects because the Palais was already full up of things due to Jewish shopping on an European scale. So they put them into the dressing room where nobody could see them. In Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” 

we can see Charles at the back and he had Proust as his secretary!  Charles became one of the models for Charles Swann in “À la recherche du temps perdu”. Charles loved everything that had to do with contemporary art. He lived in Rue Monceau and had a wonderful head of Donatello and on his walls  paintings by Renoir, Degas or Manet. Edmund de Waal says that he had to make a choice of whether to go back to the very beginning of this Jewish family, to the pact they made that they would survive in Europe by making themselves invisible.

The writer goes to Odessa and to the shtetl, the family’s very origin.  There he sees the name of maker of these objects and thinks about going back to Kyoto .

The video ends here, but you should, of course read the book and also start to make inquiries about your family story! By the way, which character do you like best?


On our trip to ODESSA I found the Ephrussi Bank!!!/


6 replies »

    • Not to have contact with once mothers seems to be a very bad and difficult start,like Mary Lennox, I agree with you, Roberta, but I ask myself, if this really does not exist anymore in our modern societies, where parents are so busy!
      I have just opened a page of my book about the Jewish Ephrussi family, which originally comes from Odessa, where they lived in the lived in the “shtetl” and I am reading: Mister Kirchner, the doorkeeper, who used to swing the gates of the Palais Ephrussi open with a flourish and a low bow to amuse the children, had conveniently gone out and left the gates to the Ringstrasse (Vienna) wide open on the day the Nazis came.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Martina, this quote you have shared is really terribly sad. I could never do something that would bring bad things to other people. With regards to working mothers, it depends on the person. Many women must work in order to help support their families. This is understandable and necessary. It is what they do with the rest of their time that I sometimes question. If you are working a lot then you should devote a great deal of your free time to your children. That is my view and that is what I always did. I am close to my sons and they are great young men. If you don’t invest any time in your children, then they won’t bother much with you later in life. I always think of this song by Harry Chapin:

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good morning Roberta, I’ve just listened to your song and have big difficulties in retaining my tears, because of this not being aware of the absolute importance of time given to your children, as you said here above and its fatal consequences!!
        The quote I mentioned is also so sad, as you said, because it reminds me very much of the actual war going on in the Ukraine.
        I wish you a happy Sunday ttogether with your family:)

        Liked by 1 person

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