Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal 2010

"[T]he intelligence and creativity with which de Waal constructs a family history are what make this special book so supremely ­winning." from a review by Megan Buskey in the New York Times 1/28/2011

Edmund De Waal (b. 1964) was raised in the Anglican Church. But he knew that he had one Jewish grandparent: his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth, had been a Jewish Ephrussi. Her great-grandfather Chaim Efrussi moved from Berdichev to Odessa where he raised his family and made his fortune.  Chaim (whose name became Charles Joachim Ephrussi) traded mainly in wheat, but eventually his sons, who set off for Paris and Vienna, went into banking and became powerful and influential businessmen. 

De Waal is fascinated by the large colorful Ephrussi family. Joachim’s grandson Charles became an influential art collector in Paris and had a collection of 264 netsuke, miniature Japanese carvings. De Waal traces the journey of the netsuke as a way to tell the story of the Ephrussis who were citizens of the world. The collection moved amongst family members from Japan to Paris to Vienna, back to Japan, and then to England when the author inherited them.

We read about six generations of Ephrussis. De Waal spends one section on some of the Paris Ephrussis where he recreates the zeitgeist of the second half of nineteenth century Paris. He describes the Rue de Monceau with its large mansions owned by wealthy Jewish families, the Ephrussis being one of them. We see Joachim’s grandson Charles immersed in the art world, a friend and business associate of now-famous Impressionist painters. De Waal vividly demonstrates how Charles's being Jewish, no matter how assimilated, affected his life. And we also read about his acquisition of the netsuke collection.

Viktor Ephrussi is the author’s great-grandfather. Because this is the author’s branch of the family, he spends a lot of time on the Vienna Ephrussis. The counterpart to the Rue de Monceau in Paris is the Ringstrasse (often referred to as Zionstrasse) where the Ephrussis lived in a imposing mansion. He paints a detailed portrait of Viktor and Emmy and the cultured, affluent life they lived in Vienna, a city hospitable to Jews during the reign of Kaiser Franz Josef. But always there was anti-Semitism just below the surface. Soon they were embroiled in World War I, and as the author notes, they were in the wrong country; they were on the losing side. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved.

De Waal takes us through the build-up to World War II, the rising anti-Semitism, the Anchluss, and the effects of the war on his branch of the Vienna Ephrussis. We read about the fate of his extended family members who scattered, if they could get out, to all corners of the globe ahead of Hitler’s murderous intentions. He sketches in the post-war life of his grandmother who married a de Waal, and the memoir ends where it started - in Japan where his grandmother's brother Iggy lived, the last owner of the netsuke. Great uncle Iggy bequeaths them to de Waal.

What we have in this carefully researched memoir is European history of the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth as seen through the lives of the wealthy, privileged members of the Ephrussi family. We see them at the height of their power socializing with prominent artists and writers, businessmen and titled nobility. But then we see that their wealth did not protect them; that being Jewish was their defining trait no matter how much influence or assets they had had, no matter that many Ephrussis had assimilated, had married Christians or had converted.

To watch Edmund de Waal discuss the process of writing this memoir, click here.

To read a very interesting in-depth article from the Economist about the process and the consequences of  writing of this book, click here.


People
Author’s father’s family   
Charles (Chaim) Joachim Ephrussi (Efrussi) – married Belle (Balbina) Levenson; second marriage to Henriette Halperson
    Leon (Leib) Ephrussi – son of Charles and Belle; married Mina Landau
        Jules Ephrussi – son of Leon and Mina; married Fanny Pfeiffer
        Ignace Ephrussi – son of Leon and Mina
        Charles Ephrussi – son of Leon and Mina
        Betty Ephrussi – daughter of Leon and Mina; married Max Hirsch Kann
            Fanny Kann – daughter of Betty and Max; married Theodore Reinach
                Leon Reinach – married to Beatrice de Camondo
    Ignace (Eizek) von Ephrussi – son of Charles and Belle; married Emilie Porgees
        Stefan von Ephrussi – son of Ignace and Emilie; married Estiha
        Anna von Ephrussi – daughter of Ignace and Emilie; married Baron Herz von Hertenreid
        Viktor von Ephrussi – son of Ignace and Emilie; married Emmy Schey von Koromla
             Elisabeth von Ephrussi – daughter of Viktor and Emmy; married Hendrick de Waal
                Victor de Waal – son of Elisabeth and Hendrick; married Esther Moir
                    John de Waal – son of Victor and Esther
                    Alexander de Waal – son of Victor and Esther
                    Edmund de Waal – son of Victor and Esther; married to Susan Chandler; author
                        Benjamin de Waal – son of Edmund and Susan
                        Matthew de Waal – son of Edmund and Susan
                        Anna de Waal – daughter of Edmund and Susan
                    Thomas de Waal – son of Victor and Esther   
            Gisela von Ephrussi – daughter of Viktor and Emmy; married Alfredo Barr
            Ignace von Ephrussi – son of Viktor and Emmy; in a relationship with Jiro Sugiyama
            Rudolf von Ephrussi – son of Viktor and Emmy; married to Virginia Bailey
                Constant Hendrik de Waal – son of Elisabeth and                
    Michel Ephrussi – son of Charles and Henriette; married Lilliane Beer
    Maurice Ephrussi – son of Charles and Henriette; married Charlotte Beatrice de Rothschild
    Therese Ephrussi – daughter of Charles and Henriette; married Leon Fould
    Marie Ephrussi – daughter of Charles and Henriette; married Guy de Percin

Alphonse de Rothchild – father of Beatrice, who is the wife of Maurice Ephrussi (see above)
Joseph Reinach – brother of Thomas who is the husband of Fanny Kann (see above)

Family members of Emmy Schey von Koromla who married Viktor von Ephrussi (see above)
Paul Schey von Koromla – married to Evelina Landenaur; parents of Emmy
    Philippe (Pips)Schey von Koromla – son of Paul and Evelina; brother of Emmy; married to Olga 
    Eva Schey von Koromla – daughter of Paul and Evelina; sister of Emmy; married Thuroczy de Also-Korosteg et Tuocz-Szent-Milhaly
    Gerry Schey von Koromla – daughter of Paul and Evelina; sister of Emmy; married Baron Weiss von Weiss und Horstenstein
Arthur Schniztler – cousin of Emmy Schey von Koromla
Herman and Witold Schey von Koromla – twin brothers; cousins of Emmy Shey von Koromla
Anna von Leiben – Emmy’s great aunt
Fritz von Leiben – a cousin of Emmy’s children
Marie-Louise von Motesiczky (Piz) – cousin of Emmy
Frank and Mitzi Wooster – cousins of Emmy

Acquaintances
Bernhardt Altmann
Louise Cahen
Egon Friedell
Rudolf Gutmann
    Marianne Gutmann – Rudolf’s daughter
Karl Kraus
Fanny Loewenstein

Places
Berdichev, Ukraine
Leopoldstradt, Vienna, Austria
Vienna Austria
Kovecses, Czechoslovakia
Rue de Monceau, Paris
Paris, France
Odessa, Russia

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