January 22, 2024


Publication Date: January 1, 2010

Print Length: 369 pages

A New York Times Bestseller

An Economist Book of the Year

Galaxy National Book Award Winner (New Writer of the Year Award)


Previous Author Publications:

The White Road: Journey into an Obsession (2015)

Letters to Camondo (2021)


As a professional ceramic artist, Edmund de Waal was always fascinated by his family’s collection of 264 Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke. Determined to learn the history behind the collection, de Waal set out on a year-long search to discover more about his relatives, the Ephrussis, who once managed a banking dynasty in Odessa, Paris, and Vienna.

After travelling to the family’s former home in Paris, de Waal learned that Charles Ephrussi (a cousin to his great-grandfather) was an art connoisseur who began collecting netsuke in the 1870s. Through his detailed research, de Waal paints a vivid picture of Charles who was closely associated with Marcel Proust and knew many of the early Impressionist painters including Degas and Manet.

De Waal then follows the netsukes to Vienna where they arrived in 1899 after Charles gifted the collection to Viktor, his nephew (and de Waal’s great-grandfather). As he depicts the luxurious life his grandmother and her family enjoyed in the early 1900s, de Waal also describes the antisemitism they endured. After Nazis took control over Austria during World War II, the Ephrussi family members were able to escape, immigrating to England, the United States and Mexico while the netsuke collection ended up with de Waal’s Great-Uncle Iggy who moved to Japan.

As de Waal traces the journey of the netsuke, he creates an intimate picture of his distant relatives and the fabulous life they enjoyed before World War II forced them to leave everything behind except for the netsuke


Horwell, Veronica, “The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal.” The Guardian, June 25, 2010. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jun/26/hare-amber-eyes-de-waal

Connolly, Kate,”Edmund deWaal: ‘The Nazis banished my family from Vienna. Now we are returning.” The Guardian. September 08, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/28/edmund-de-waal-nazis-banished-my-family-from-vienna-interview

Rosenberg, Karen, “A hare and an inheritance once hidden, at the Jewish Museum.” The New York Times, December 29, 2021,  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/29/arts/design/jewish-museum-hare-amber-dewaal.html


  • In what ways does de Waal use the netsuke as a tactile link between the past and the present within his family history? Can family heirlooms serve the same purpose?

  • How does de Waal use literature and art to create a rich description of the day-to-day lives his relatives once lived more than one hundred years ago?

  • What do deWaal’s accounts of life in Paris in the late 1800s in Paris as well as in Vienna in the early 1900s reveal about the patterns of antisemitism that were present before World War II?

  • As de Waal searches for his family’s past, what traces does he find from the vast fortune the Ephrussi family once owned?

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Every month I offer a Book Club suggestion that highlights authors who write about their family history and explore themes of identity.
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