February Books 2) The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal
I didn't know much about this book before I started it, though I vaguely know one of the author's brothers, an expert on the South Caucasus, and know of another, who is an expert on Sudan. It's quite a remarkable story, tracking the history of the Ephrussi family through the fate of a collection of netsuke, including the hare of the title, from France to Austria and back to Japan. The two particularly impressive sections are on the life of the collection's first owner, Charles Ephrussi, who turns up in Renoir paintings and was one of the people that Proust's Charles Swann was based on, and the heart-wrenching story of the destruction of the family household in Vienna after the Nazi take-over, including the chance survival of the netsuke collection when almost all else was lost. But there are also sections covering the life of the author's great-uncle in Japan and how de Waal put the story together in the first place. It's all beautifully written, and de Waal successfully recreates the atmosphere of these lost worlds for the reader.