The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

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Edmund de Waal is the son of an English country vicar descended from a Jewish banking dynasty whose founders moved from Berdychev to Odessa (I’ve put “Berdychev” rather than, as he did, “Berdichev”, but I’m sticking to Odessa with a double s!) and then split into a Paris branch and a Vienna branch, both fabulously wealthy and well-connected … until the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the rise of the Nazis. The focus on the book was his investigation into the history of a collection of Japanese “netsuke” (miniature sculptures) which he’d inherited from a great-uncle who’d moved from Vienna to the USA before settling in Japan, and which his great-uncle had in turn inherited from a relative who’d mixed with all sorts of artistic luminaries in Belle Epoque Paris.

I think I’d have preferred a straight history of the family rather than the focus on the history of the netsuke, but it was still a very good read, and a fascinating insight into the rise and fall of a family which went very rapidly from humble beginnings to a position of great wealth and influence in the fascinating worlds of late 19th century and early 20th century Paris and Vienna, and the scattering of its survivors and their making of new lives for themselves in different parts of the world.

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