A Magical Tale of Netsuke / by Jeannine Cook

I have always been enchanted with netsuke, those tiny and often exquistely carved toggles on Japanese kimono sashes. I learned about them from an early age, because of my family´s connections with Japan. Later, in the major European and American museums which have netsuke collections, I spent happy hours peering and delighting, but mourned the fact that none of them could ever be touched. They are essentially designed for touch, fitting so perfectly into the hand.

I was thus so delighted to learn, through the Christian Science Monitor´s book review page, of a book about a netsuke collection. Entitled ¨The Hare with Amber Eyes¨, by Edmund de Waal, it was published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in 2010. It is the story of the acquisition of this collection of netsuke, and uses the netsuke as the thread to trace onwards the history both of these works of art and their owners down the generations to today, when Edmund de Waal himself is their safekeeper.

The diversity, intricacy and beauty of these highly tactile small objects, linked to a fascinating family history, make for a remarkable book, layered with so many nuances that everything enriches. You learn of the original creator of some of these small netsuke, you learn of the Japan that came later (after World War II), you learn of the heady times of japonisme in Paris in the second half of the 19th century and accompanying rise of Impressionism... Later came Vienna, both opulent and then devastating as 1938 presaged the end of that world for Edmund de Waal´s family. Meanwhile, the netsuke survived - small animals, erotic scenes, old people, any manner of imaginative subjects.

In short, this is a book of magic, well worth reading for many reasons.