“You take an object from your pocket and put it down in front of you and you start. You begin to tell a story.”
Here is where the family memoir by Edmund deWaal entitled The Hare with Amber Eyes begins to teach, what the New Yorker magazine calls, “the most enchanting history lesson imaginable.”
The back-cover summary of the book reads:
Edmund deWaal is a world-famous ceramicist.
Having spent 30 years making beautiful pots - which are then sold, collected, and handed on -
he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects.
When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke,
he wanted to know who had touched and held them
[among others, the holders included Marcel Proust, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Edouard Manet],
and how the collection had managed to survive.
And so begins this extraordinary moving memoir and detective story as deWaal discovers both the story
of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations.
A 19th-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna,
the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothschilds.
Yet at the end of World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna,
this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.
What a compelling account of this portion of his family history, as it traces the whereabouts of the netsuke, from their early acquisition as part of his great-great-great-grandfather’s diverse art collection in Paris, through their journey to Vienna as a wedding present to the author’s great-uncle, through their safe escape from under the Aryan gaze of Nazi occupiers, to England, then Tokyo, and finally to London, to a vitrine in the author’s flat where his own children get to handle them freely.
This post is not an ad for Ancestry.Com. It’s an encouragement to develop a wonder and honor of history, YOUR history. I am not a historian, but hubby is, and although his interest is more academic, I am captivated by the people interacting with the people. ((There is an account of the great-great-great-grandfather paying more than the asking price for a painting of a bundle of asparagus by Manet. Days later, a package arrives, a painting of a single asparagus stalk, with a note from Manet that read, “This one must have fallen out of the bundle.”))
All histories include villains, and heroes, and “a missing 17 minutes” of testimony or remembrance. No to worry. They are all part of the overall history, where people came from, and how they are who they are today... who YOU are today.
In deWaal’s memoir, the yellow armchair reappears decades after it sat in the parlor of his ancestor’s Nazi-invaded home in Vienna; the netsuke, transported to safety in her apron, are found in the protection of a faithful, now elderly, housemaid; original Russian documents are found generations later, sandwiched between old issues of Architectural Digest in Uncle Iggie’s Tokyo apartment - all details befitting the most intriguing of detective stories.
How many incidents in your life have you looked back on and thought, “Wow! So that’s how I got here” or “So that’s why Grandma used to do that” or “So that’s who Opa was talking about”? It can be off-putting, not always a pleasant surprise, sometimes one of those “HOW EVER DID I MISS THAT?”-moments.
However, we can be comforted that not one moment of this life we are living is a surprise to God. The Creator of Everything is not taken off-guard by any detail, by any misstep, by any poor choice, by any over-priced purchase, by any mean word that we DELIBERATELY decided to make or utter. What surprises me is that He can - and often does - turn my mistakes around for good. WHY? I meant what I said, and I meant it to hurt! But what our soul's enemy, or our most selfish human nature meant for evil, He can use for good... and will mercifully, miraculously do so to that end.
It’s humbling and exciting and encouraging... and bigger than our view of this fleeting life.
How time flies!
How life flies!
But nothing is lost, nothing is wasted, nothing is useless providing we trust that the BIGGER plan, the Divine Plan, includes us, has our best interest in mind, and will ultimately lift up the Name Above All Names and His purposes, even if we’re not privy to all the details along the way.
Go ahead, unveil 2015. We’re not getting any younger and there’s history to live.