“The Hare with Amber Eyes” has become an international phenomenon. Fiammetta Rocco follows the author to Vienna and finds the saga continuing …
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2012
They were well into the wine before they started telling stories. All day long the delegates at the 2005 Harvard conference on 20th-century studio ceramics had been listening to presentations on the Mingei movement in Japan, debating the role of folk art and the importance of Bernard Leach, a British potter who settled in Japan and became very influential. But as the main course was cleared away, those sitting at a table to one side of the room became captivated by a tale being recounted by another British potter, Edmund de Waal. It was about the Japanese netsuke his family had bought in the 1870s. Within half a century, they were one of the richest in Vienna, with a grand house on the Ringstrasse. At the Anschluss in 1938 the netsuke disappeared; stolen, the family thought. It was only after the war that they discovered they’d been hidden from the Nazis by a faithful servant, Anna. “This would make such a great book,” said Michael Goldfarb, a New York collector and one of those listening. “Edmund, you’ve got to stop talking and start writing. This is the book you were born to write.”
Published in June 2010, “The Hare with Amber Eyes” has become the most successful family memoir of the decade. The tale of the vitrine of little Japanese figures passed down through five generations of the same family, from Paris to Vienna to Tunbridge Wells and Tokyo and back to south London, has seen 63,500 copies printed in hardback, 376,000 in paperback, and now there is an illustrated edition too, priced at £25. And that’s just in Britain.
“The Hare with Amber Eyes” has been translated into 22 languages; not just the obvious ones to do with the story, like German and Hebrew, but also Serbian, Finnish and Chinese. When the book came out in Germany, it sold so fast that it had to be reprinted repeatedly in the first six weeks. In Austria it topped the bestseller list two months before its launch.
It is hard to know what makes a bestseller. If it were easy, no publisher would have turned down “We Need to Talk About Kevin” or Harry Potter. Yet dozens did. And so it was with “The Hare with Amber Eyes”. Eight British publishing houses passed on it. Only one bid came in for the book when the proposal was submitted. Yet from the very start, reviewers and readers were united in their embrace of this intimate story of a lost family and a lost time. Waterstone’s, one book chain, failed to order it at first, but the reading public defied its lack of imagination. The book sold by word of mouth and with the enthusiastic backing of independent booksellers who did what good booksellers are meant to do: they read it, recommended it and re-ordered copies, over and over again. (End of excerpt from Intelligent Life Magazine)
I enjoy memoirs. While they are less objective than biographies they tell the tale the person wanted to tell at his or her time in life. I often find it interesting to compare memoirs with autobiographies when they are available (rarely) and the subject is one in which I have interest.
I recently watched, then re-watched a movie, The Red Violin, that chronicles the peregrinations of a red violin crafted during the renaissance. I wonder if this tale will be similar.
This book is available in a kindle edition for $9.99. It will be next on my reading list.