The Hare With Amber Eyes (Picador, $16) was one of 264 Japanese netsuke Edmund de Waal inherited in 1994. Feeling “a responsibility to them and to the people who had owned them,” de Waal set out to tell the stories of these figures and of the remarkable Ephrussis. His family memoir follows the netsuke from 1871, when Charles Ephrussi (a model for Proust’s Charles Swann) purchased them in Paris during a wave of japonisme. The collection next went to the Vienna branch of the family, gracing a dressing room in the Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse. Barely surviving the First World War, the banking dynasty was shattered by the Second. The netsuke disappeared. Then resurfaced after the War, emigrating with de Waal’s grandmother to England. De Waal is a ceramicist, concerned with how things feel; he has endowed his narrative with the heft and texture of objects, conveying both the fine detail of the lives and the tremendous sweep of the times. His evocation of the Anschluss, for instance, is a pulse-quickening, heart-breaking account of events, told as family history.
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