Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top Five Books #1: The Hare with Amber Eyes

Author Edmund de Waal with his inherited netsuke

My uber-bookstore friend, Liz, told me early in the year that I had to read The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss. When I read what the book was about -- tiny Japanese figurines called netsuke, a famous Jewish banking dynasty, Vienna and the Second World War -- I hesitated. Non-fiction and written by a British ceramist, it just didn't interest me, particularly the netsuke. I trust Liz, though, and bought the book anyway, and let me tell you that this was probably the best read of the year for me -- a powerful true story, beautifully written and filled with suspense, art and tragedy.

Stories are a kind of thing, too. Stories and objects share something, a patina. I thought I had this clear, two years ago before I started, but I am no longer sure how this works. Perhaps a patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed, the way that a striated stone tumbled in a river feels irreducible, the way that this netsuke of a fox has become little more than a memory of a nose and a tail. But it also seems additive, in the way that a piece of oak furniture gains over years and years of polishing, and the way the leaves of my medlar shine.
Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss


  1. Thanks for the recommendation!

    I'll add it to the pile!

  2. I read the book this year as well. The passage that covers the Second World War and the persecution of the Jews was particularly memorable.
    You learn history in school, but reading how all this affected a certain family, is something else...
    I'm looking forward to finding out what made your top 5!



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