The Hare with Amber Eyes was the sixth book read in my book club this school year. When I voted for it I thought the book was going to be about something completely different. On the onset I was a bit put off and disappointed. I really wanted to know more about netsuke. Netsuke are small Japanese figurines made of wood and ivory that were used to close the obi on Japanese traditional garments. They represented animals, people, and mythical characters. I believed the story was about netsuke, but they were nothing more that a vehicle for Edmund De Waal to explore his fascinating Jewish family. When Edmund De Waal received the large collection of netsuke as an inheritance from his great-uncle Iggie who was living in Japan, he felt compelled to research his extraordinary family.
The story begins in Odessa, Russia and we as readers follow the family as it grows and expands and travels throughout Europe. There are fascinating tales and detailed descriptions of various family members throughout the 350 pages. Now I have to be honest I had some problems with various sections of this book. I found some parts extremely slow and dry. I really had to keep my eyes open. I managed to read the book in about 4 days but was struggling to find that special thing that was going to grip me to the story. I was afraid to put it down to long.
As I soldiered on, around about page 200-225 something clicked and I started to find the story more interesting. The writing lightened up and De Waal’s writing style seemed to develop into a more detached tone that was more acceptable to me. His constant interjections into the story bothered me a bit earlier in the story, even though I enjoyed his erudite and sometimes humoristic commentary.
Discussing this book on Saturday with my book club proved very enlightening. Firstly I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a little boring at times. I’d read many reviews where it seemed everyone loved it. I kept wondering if there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t alone. A few people hadn’t finished it. They still had the last stretch of 100 pages. The parts that I preferred.
The Hare with Amber Eyes is one of those books that you either love or hate, even though I’ve fallen smack in the middle (liked it). I gave it 3 stars because it is such an incredible family history. The book is a mixture of history, art history, and family saga. Those are definitely ingredients for an engrossing story. It’s the fourth non-fiction I’ve read this year and for me that’s a lot, since I have a specific preference for literary fiction. In spite of not loving The Hare with Amber Eyes immensely, I’m still happy to have read it and learned some new things through others’ eyes. Not through the hare’s eyes though since it wasn’t about him or the netsuke. I wonder why they chose that title. We discussed that on Saturday and we weren’t so sure. I and a few others felt the title was slightly misleading and then someone said it continues a certain mystery something hidden that’s lurking to be discovered. The netsuke are there through it all. They survive through all the good times, tragedy, and will continue to exist, going from generation to generation.
Below is a link to the video I watched after finishing the book. As I listened to De Waal I regretted that I hadn’t picked The Hare with Amber Eyes up on audiobook. Suddenly his work came to life for me, as I listened to him read parts of the book, along side the giant pictures on-screen. The pictures that just appeared to be too small and dark in the book.
2 Replies to “The Hare with Amber Eyes”
I’m one of those who absolutely loved it and for me it was a real pageturner. I went looking for the netsuke to find out more about them, but liked that he used them as the lead into the family history, like silent passive observers of a family history – the only story missing their lives in Japan before they arrived in Paris.
I was fascinated by the freedom of the 3rd son in these traditional families and how they didn’t have to pursue the family business and so pursued their passions, the Parisian son didn’t even marry, such was his freedom from family obligation.
Friends that have really enjoyed this book all have a connection with the art world and the characters that inhabit it, I wonder if it has something to do with that interest. I followed this up by reading Elizabeth DeWaal’s novel The Exiles Return, totally fascinated that in the 2 years since her grandsons book was published, Perspehone Books had resurrected her manuscript and published it themselves. It is an interesting novel, but I really wanted to know much more of her own personal story and that return to Austria that she made.
I am so glad you did persevere and the video links do add something. The success of this book was a huge surprise to the author, but I like that he wrote it in a way that meant something to him and his lifework, something to pass on to his own children, not just the netsuke. 🙂
I totally get it now. I should tell my other book club lovers about The Exiles Return. I’m sure some of them would be thrilled to read it. Audiobooks are a wonderful way to experience some books. I don’t listen to them often but I’m sure this one would have been a lovely one, especially if it was recounted by Edmund De Waal himself. I’m glad I persevered as well. 🙂
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