by Edmund de Waal (Vintage) ISBN: 9780099539551
With this debut, famous ceramic artist, Edmund de Waal has shown that he is multitalented. He pictures the story of his family history in the 19th century through a collection of netsuke, small Japanese ivory animals and figurines.
The book starts in Paris in 1871, where de Waal’s great-uncle Charles Ephrussi moved from Odessa to start collecting art, first Japonisme and then as an advisor of Manet and Renoir amongst others. The Ephrussi family was a wealthy Jewish family and Proust based his character Charles Swann on great-uncle Charles.
The story moves to Vienna in 1899 where the collection of 264 netsuke is a wedding gift to cousin Viktor and his wife Emmy. This is the city where de Waal’s grandmother grows up. She is the first female student to graduate from university. Then the horror of spring 1938 in Vienna. The humiliation and devastation of his Jewish family and the destruction of their wealth. The netsuke become a hidden inheritance.
I never had to disentangle a sentence or skip over pages, when I read this book, winner of the 2010 Costa Biography Award.
I could hear music coming off the pages. Highly recommended.
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