I chose this book because of it’s fabulous cover, interesting title and because I was hearing things about it, kind of unspecified things, but good things. So I grabbed it and started it immediately. Not really realising it I had grabbed a book about something I was really interested in. This is the story of a family via a set of Japanese netsuke which are small carved objects made of ivory, wood or stone. They are intricate and clever, made to fit into your hand and as collectables. I have one of these, a swan, which I bought in Hong Kong years ago, it is a little treasure. So, this book is the story of a collection of netsuke, 264 of them, they have been passed down through a family and when Edmund inherits them from his fabulous uncle (the character in the book whom I loved the most) he begins to investigate the history of these particular treasures and in doing so the history of his family.
The wealth of these people whom Edmund is decended from was totally staggering. They built up an empire in grain, trade, banking, and other business ventures which meant they were so incredibly wealthy as to be able to commission famous artists such as Renoir to paint for them, they had music composed for them, they hung out with writers of renown, they bought whole streets in the centre of Vienna, homes all over the world including Japan. Gaspingly rich they were! Gobsmackingly rich! And then a fortune was lost, and then war put paid to the rest of it. The family are Jewish and lose everything including many of themselves in the war. Nothing left except an elderly lady who served as a servant to the family and stuck with them through thick and thin.
This is a big story, the loves and the losses are enough to make your head spin, but what Edmund de Waal does is to draw you carefully into the worlds of his ancestors. I learnt a lot about society, about the mores and accesses of the people of his past and also a different insight into a family who were so damaged by war and tragedy. It is a beautiful book, a careful and thoughtful read, not at all what I thought I was getting into when I started but a book which has stayed with me since I finished it. It is lovely.