It's not so much the story of how a collection of netsuke (tiny Japanese ornaments once used to tie up kimonos) has remained in one family for two centuries - although that in itself is miraculous. But rather, it's the journey of those little ornaments amid the backdrop of modern history that makes this book so rich, I think. De Waal has looked at religious persecution, fortunes built and lost, European politics and the associated public groundswell, the importance of language, as well as sense of place and belonging. The book would be ideal for anyone considering their own family history (and it made me see just how many holes I have in my own research so far) or for anyone who simply loves a good story. Bearing in mind though, what de Waal thought would take three to four months to research and write, actually ended up taking two years. Now that's a long time to give up your day job. But de Waal writes of his compulsion; that he felt the anecdotal, dinner-party telling of the story was making it 'thinner'.
"Owning this netsuke - inheriting them all - means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them."I suspect this foray into biography has made me spoilt. It is a well-told story full of superb detail and language told by a potter who has a far-better-than-average command of English, and it's impeccably researched bringing de Waal's ancestors to vivid life.
And the ultimate test for me: am I a better person for having read this book? The answer is, a thousand times yes, my word I am. Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes is a stunning book, brilliantly sublime and thoroughly un-put-down-able.