264 Japanese wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranchare with amber eyesed when he first encountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie’s Tokyo apartment. When he later inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined. 

From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siecle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the nutsuke’s journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.

It is possible that our group has found a new favourite non-fiction author in the guise of Edmund de Waal. His prize winning The Hare with Amber Eyes (Costa Biography Award 2010) impressed us on many levels.

Of course the historically accurate tracing of his family history through their nestsuke collection was well written and researched, but we also found the read to be informative and compelling on the Jewish culture and their struggles during the Nazi occupation of Austria.

We all lamented the quality of the writing, although some would have preferred the vocabulary a little less academic … then again, some enjoyed the discovery of new and somewhat tricky words!

It was mentioned by a few of our group that it took a little while to get into The Hare, but once snared (pun intended) it is a trap you are happy to be caught in. In fact, one member is in no hurry to finish and is purposely taking it slow and extending the enjoyment.

Everyone found themselves researching ‘nestsuke’ in an attempt to learn more about these miniature carvings, and we all hoped to discover the secret of the little hare with amber eyes. But to our disappointment, this cute little critter, although in his family’s collection, was no more special than any of the others. Why the title reference? We are none the wiser!

We then went on to have a lively discussion on a few related topics … collecting of trinkets and the familial attachment they can hold, the history of Jewish culture and anti-Semitism, and the fate of classic art during WWII, its survival and destruction.

Though there were some of us who found the timing for this subject was slightly off for them personally, the scope of material for discussion was more than adequate for yet another interesting monthly meeting, in which we all came away smiling. Thank you ladies!