I’ve started my New Year’s resolution with fanfare, having read this extraordinary book, The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, winner of the 2010 Costa Biography Award. It is one of those rare books that you can’t forget once you’ve finished – a poignant, gentle restructuring of lives gone by, of art and the joy of art, of the strange dichotomy of human nature: the love of beauty and ruthless pursuit of power.
We follow the journey of a collection of Japanese netsuke – small, meticulous carvings of animals and people – a journey which is closely bound to the story of Edmund de Waal’s influential European family. In learning about the art and origins of the netsuke, we discover the family’s story – their rise to wealth and social success, and the descent into chaos during the war. And through it all, the remarkable survival of the netsuke – travelling from Japan to Paris, to Vienna, to London, back to Japan – and finally back to England.
This is not your average, quick read: Edmund de Waal’s writing is rich, poetic and evocative. It is a book both mesmerizing and heart-rending. It is the meticulous truth of a family’s history. For me, it emphasized that mysterious link between pure creativity for the sake of art and the desire to possess; the creator and the buyer, the gifted and the collector. Why do we want things so much – to hold, to touch what we feel is the ultimate in creative beauty? Is it a way of making emotion material, collectable, a thing to possess? Is it at heart, love?
The Hare with Amber Eyes is a five-star read. It will enlighten, intrigue, sadden and delight. It will make you think.