Among the most engaging books I’ve read in the past decade or so is the ceramicist Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), an account of his family’s astonishing history. Until the rise of National Socialism and the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, the Ephrussis were as rich, influential, and respected a Jewish clan as the Rothschilds, known for both their affluence and their philanthropy. (The families intermarried in the 1880s.) De Waal’s book is an informally told saga of wealth, power, persecution, and loss, peopled by bankers and the occasional aesthete. It spans the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, encompassing everything from luxury and high social status to Nazi brutality, and moves across Europe to the Far East and back. The connecting thread is the journey of a collection of 264 Japanese

 

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