This was recommended to me a while ago and I wasn’t interested, but then it was selected by my book club and I am glad it was I really enjoyed it.
I think what gave me the most enjoyment was Mr De Waal’s writing style – he has a lovely personal anecdotal style.
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. Charles’s passion was collecting; the netsuke, bought when Japanese objets 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, dramatically saved by a loyal maid when their huge Viennese palace was occupied. 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 tells the story of a unique collection.
This is a fascinating story spanning interesting historical times – Paris in the 1870s (Renoir and Degas…), Vienna during WW1 and WW2 and finally Japan. I was intrigued by the craftsmanship involved in making the netsuke and would have liked more on that (although I might be along in finding the slow, detailed work interesting). I enjoyed the story being told through a group of objects – something tangible that remained after everything else was gone (how Anna saved them and even the fact that she wanted to save them is extraordinary).
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