Winner of the 2010 COSTA Biography Award. A total of 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox: potter Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in the Tokyo apartment of his Great Uncle Iggie. Later, when Edmund inherited the 'netsuke', they unlocked a story far larger than he could ever have imagined....
The Ephrussis came from Odessa, and at one time were the largest grain exporters in the world; in the 1870s, Charles Ephrussi was part of a wealthy new generation settling in Paris. Marcel Proust was briefly his secretary and used Charles as the model for the aesthete Swann in Remembrance of Things Past. Charles's passion was collecting; the netsuke, bought when Japanese objects were all the rage in the salons, were sent as a wedding present to his banker cousin in Vienna.
Later, three children - including a young Ignace - would play with the netsuke as history reverberated around them. The Anschluss and Second World War swept the Ephrussis to the brink of oblivion. Almost all that remained of their vast empire was the netsuke collection, smuggled out of the huge Viennese palace (then occupied by Hitler's theorist on the 'Jewish Question'), one piece at a time, in the pocket of a loyal maid - and hidden in a straw mattress.
In this stunningly original memoir, Edmund de Waal travels the world to stand in the great buildings his forebears once inhabited. He traces the network of a remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century. And, in prose as elegant and precise as the netsuke themselves, he tells the story of a unique collection which passed from hand to hand - and which, in a twist of fate, found its way home to Japan.
This audio edition also features an interview with Edmund De Waal from the Vintage Books podcast.
©2011 Edmund de Waal (P)2011 Random House Audio Go
Love walking my dogs listening to books
This is an epic novel and I find it baffling that previous reviews have been quite scathing. It roves beautifully through Japan, Vienna, Paris, Odessa and England through the delightful netsuke wrapped up in a human story which has great wealth and great tragedy. Stunning imagery - who can forget the yellow armchair and a journey which is so special to the author. This book is simply lovely and the gentle, modulated tones of the narrator Michael Maloney will wash over you. I found it repaid 2 listens as it covers a lot of ground, historically and geographically with many characters to remember - but that is the beauty of this book. Take your time and bathe in it!
A lovely, absorbing read - portal to a family history both entertaining and relevant. It was a little slow sometimes, but there were some unforgettable word-pictures of scenes and activities far away and long ago which came to life in the telling. I found the narrator's style of speech somewhat prissy, and found at the end that he had mispronounced the word netsuke from beginning to end - why didn't any check in the editing department? The interview with the author right at the end put me right. Altogether very absorbing and entertaining and all credit to the author for his thorough and painstaking research.
I bought this book because of the rave reviews and high ranking in the best sellers list. I made a mistake. After listening to it for about 2 hours, I turned it off and I do not plan to finish it.
The book is well written and it is well read, but I just could not get into it. If I was related to the author then it might have been interesting family history, but I'm not. I found it as compelling as a well written and well read shopping list.
Wow, everyone seems to be raving about this book, but I found it a tedious relating of one family's catalog of acquisitions, and then reading of their loss and the subsequent demise of the family, due to the war. Yes it is very sad none the less, as are all stories of the victims of persecution, but this one failed to grab me.
I enjoyed every aspect of this reading, the reader's voice was perfect, in fact, there were many moments I imagined it was the author himself speaking.
The story is told so well and covers many countries and huge world and life-changing events in a clear and personal way.
It made me think about acquisitions, about art's place in history and about the difference between oriental and occidental art in our culture.
Well worth listening to for a thoughtful and evocative read!
If you want to be bored get this book. I began listening hoping I would learn a lot about Netsukes, but no, I am not sure if even the Author knew what he wanted to write about. I got as far as Chapter 4 and just could not stand listening any longer, even the TV was better !! Not a good buy and a great disappointment.
This book is beautiful - a story of a family, European and world history of the last 2 centuries, social attitudes to women, Jews, and others, relationships, art. It is entirely about memory and perception and it's high art. It's a gripping story, accessible while being literary, and very well read. I highly recommend it to anyone looming for something a little different to the normal run of things.
Like others I bought this because of five star reviews, despite not being grabbed by it when I caught a fragment on Radio 4. I can't finish it, it's just so tedious. Like a cream gateaux that's gorgeous when you have one mouthful but sickening after too much, the descriptions of the fabulously wealthy Ephrussi family in Paris and Vienna, their clothes, their furniture and their palaces, soon lie heavy on the stomach. There is nothing here of interest about their lives, presented as empty socialising, nor about the wider society in which they live, apart from speculation as to how they might have been affected by the high class snubbing of anti-semitism. The breathy excitement of the reader, especially at the beginning (or did I get used to it?) I also found tedious, an attempt to inject some life into this plodding tale perhaps.
As a result of the high ratings I decided to purchase this audiobook. I found it really hard to get in to. I normally would not give up on a book as often they can be slow burners. This one never even smouldered! I gave it 2 hours of listening then it just became a real chore. The book was very unusual and well read...just not for me!
I was recommended to read this book and was reluctant to do so as I knew that as the history of a jewish family in Europe it would, at some point, lead to the Holocaust (its a period of history that I find too distressing and as I have a heart condition its probably best I don't go there) but the nature of the story intrigued me - tracing the family history thru the possession of a set of Japanese carvings is not a usual means of telling a family's history.
The subplot of the book is one of belonging or rather not belonging or fitting in. The family in book were originally from Odessa and were migrants in Vienna and Paris and as such never quite were completely assimilated - little things kept them different and still tied to Odessa. Anyone who has themselves migrated to a new country knows and can rediscover that feeling of not entirely belonging to our adopted country as it is described in this book. Its so beautifully written and had me in tears.
Edmund de Waal has produced a book that is breathtaking, poignant, beautiful, rich and full of meaning. I can't recommend this book high enough. Its a beauty.
"Hare's eyes start to shine in Vienna"
de Waal says "I was a potter who wrote books no one read"and "the moment when I knew I could write was with the Vienna chapters."
In the early part of this book,I asked whether I wanted to hear this detailed account of his forebears in Paris in the 1800s and these netsuke that they acquired but it was being so well read I was carried along into this moving & poignant account of the path through Paris to Vienna and then expulsion in World War 2 by Hitler . This path takes these netsuke to Japan and then to their now life with de Waal's family in England.Go with them.
"The Hare with the Amber Eyes"
A fascinating biography extensively and thoroughly researched about a fascinating family spanning both generations from the 18th centrury to present times and countries and cities from Odessa in Russia to Paris, Vienna Tokyo ending the journey in the United Kingdom.
The story is exceedingly well narrated.
"Stunning amble through time"
The concept of following objects through time worked so well. If you love a bit of art history told with the emphasis on history not technique you will enjoy the journey.
There were many moments that I still reflect upon but returning to find the objects after WWII via the loyal maid was very touching. Also finding out about his favourite uncle's life.
Not sure as I think I would have loved the book just as much if I'd read it, but he does do the brilliant writing justice.
"Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful story well told"
Definitely in the top 10.
I don't know because I didn't experience the physical book.
The addition of the podcast interview at the end was really interesting and a nice touch.
"Slow start but gets much better as it goes on."
Almost gave this up but it did improve and I am glad I persevered.
The book is historical, it introduced me to 'netsuke' and led on to do some research on these delightful carvings. The authors descriptions of buildings makes one look at buildings in a different way.
. Very interesting interview with author at end.
"Takes you away to a different time and place"
I liked the sense of history. Also learning about a different times and places was interesting
It is non-fiction. I wondered if it would have been more enjoyable as a novel. The story follows the objects rather than the people and sometimes I wanted to know more about the people.
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