This month’s book club selection is The Hare With The Amber Eyes. It’s a wonderful piece of nonfiction by British author Edmund De Waal, who inherited a large collection of netsuke (small, carved, Japanese curiosities) from a great uncle. He traces the netsuke from their initial purchase in the late 18th century and then through his family line until they come to him. The greatest part of it is that he is from a prominent Jewish family who were involved with Renoir, Proust and the like in 19th century Paris, and then the Hapsburgs in early 20th century Vienna. The author, who is also a sculptor in his real life, paints the landscapes of upper class Europe with broad strokes and meticulous attention to detail. The interiors of the homes and the luminous cityscapes come alive almost as characters in the narrative. I am almost halfway through the book, and I can say with certitude that I’ve never been able to “see” a scene as well as De Waal helps me to do. It really is as if he is painting with words. I can’t tell you if the book ends well, or what happens to the family – or the netsuke – during the wars in Europe (yet) but I can tell you that it’s a beautifully written book.
To that end, I admit that I am doing something that I have not done in years and years: I’m reading with a dictionary. The author uses sweeping sentences and high language that sometimes require a second read. Somehow, though, I’m not bothered by it because the prose is so beautiful and rich. I don’t mind pausing to look up a word, and have indeed installed dictionary.com on my iPhone for that purpose. Here’s a few of the words I have looked up:
- feuilleton – the part of a European newspaper devoted to light literature and/or criticism
- incunabula – The earliest traces of something, particularly a book in the 1500’s , before movable type
- imprimatur – official sanction or approval
- bibelot – small object of curiosity, beauty, or rarity
- fiacre – a small, horse-drawn carriage
- orotund – characterized by strength, fullness, or richness
Those are just a small sample of what I’ve found. Ask me if you want a few more.
I am enjoying every second of this novel, from the story, to the characters and settings, right down to the opportunity to increase my vocabulary. What a gift. I’d highly recommend it.