Discussing “The Hare with Amber Eyes”

My book group just discussed Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes. The discussion was a rousing success, mainly because the group was so divided and so emphatic in sharing their views.

The discussion started with the artifacts around which the book is formed, the Japanese netsuke, small, carved objects of various shapes and subjects. One reader said her father used to collect them from Japan and China, and that he would sell them in order to buy new ones.

de Waal’s book is a memoir of his Jewish ancestors, the wealthy Ephrussi family from Odessa who built a banking empire in Paris and Vienna. I asked how everyone felt about telling a family history through objects. The author, a famous ceramic artist, had his reasons for crafting his book in this way and other reasons also come to light as the reader learns about how the netsuke survived after World War II. One reader mentioned that there have been several novels tracing history through objects, like Geraldine Brooks’  People of the Book and Nicole Krauss’ The Great House.

Some of our discussion was spent dishing on why some of the book group members couldn’t get through it. One reader said she gave it more than Nancy Pearl’s 50 page rule and still had to stop! While others enthused and gushed about the book and the writing. I said, for me, it was the perfect example of a book I might not have read had I not scheduled it for book group.

de Waal’s obsession with objects made perfect sense to one reader who confessed the same. She also said that is reminded her a bit of a Jewish version of “Downton Abbey,” and she even quoted the scene where Mary Crawley says to her then social-climber fiance about furnishing a new country home: “Your lot buys it, my lot inherits it.” That was certainly the Ephrussi, before rampant anti-Semitism and the Nazi party dismantled their legacy.

We also talked about the decidedly English perspective that de Waal brings to his family story, to which he fully admits to. He shares his inability to fathom his great-grandmothers many affairs and is restrained and respectful of his uncle Iggie’s relationship with Jiro.

While my book group was largely frustrated with aspects of The Hare With Amber Eyes, many adored it, it proved to be a very discussable book.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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