The Hare with Amber Eyes

Ages ago when we last visited Palmerston North I noticed that Tom’s Mum Julie had a copy of The Hare with Amber Eyes on her table. She’d just finished it for her book club, which was reading biographies that month, and was keen to talk about it.

Trouble was, I’d only just started it so she’d have to wait. And wait and wait and wait… months later I’ve only just finished it.

I got stuck – I don’t often read (actually never read) history or biography so it took me a long time to get into the book. I actually had to start it twice because I read to about page 80 then read a few other books (Anna Karenina among them) then came back to it.

One of the reasons I found it so hard to get into was that I found it hard to believe – the story is incredible and in the scenes with well-known painters I found it hard to keep focused that this wasn’t a novel. iPhone in one hand referencing images of the paintings mentioned, book in the other was a great way to read the first quarter.

Once I got through the Paris section I found the book easier to go along with. In fact – my best advice is to commit some time to reading this book – summer holidays would be the perfect occasion. It really doesn’t do it justice that I read a lot of it one or three pages at a time on the train. Find a comfy chair, settle in and give it a few hours to bed in properly because at the end you’ll probably want to start all over again.

For me, it was the Japanese history that I enjoyed the most: the cherry blossoms, kimono, opening up of Japan to the west and the references to prints and the effect of the flattened landscapes on western art. If you’ve read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha and loved the references to historic Japan then you’re in for a similar, deeper and more accurate treat.

The Hare with Amber Eyes has been on the bestsellers list in New Zealand for weeks (I’m a book snob so take this as a really bad sign) but I’d absolutely recommend it for older members of your family – or those who enjoy history and biography. Anyone with an appreciation of art will also enjoy it but I’d be keen to hear what they make of the Paris section.

And if you need more, take my friend Courtney’s description of the plot;

“Edmund de Waal’s book is a cross between family history, social history, art history and travel story. In it, he traces the descent of a group of 264 netsuke (small carved objects from Japan, made from ivory or wood, which originally dangled as toggles from sashes and small bags) through five generations of his family”.


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