The Hare With Amber Eyes: The Illustrated Edition full review

The Hare With Amber Eyes: The Illustrated Edition is an elegant, extraordinary family memoir told through a collection of miniature Japanese carvings. Here's our review of this interactive iBooks offering.

When the renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal inherits his great uncle’s collection of 264 netsuke – small Japanese sculptures made of bone, ivory or wood, traditionally used as sash toggles on kimonos – he is intrigued by their beauty and precision, and resolves to trace their journey through his family’s history. Alongside a moving recollection of the lives of family members, this interactive e-book allows readers to delve into the story more deeply, with embedded videos, narration, music, a sumptuous gallery of Secessionist watercolours and, of course, images of the artefacts themselves.

The netsuke are first bought in the 1870s in Paris by Charles Ephrussi, the son of a wealthy Jewish banking family from Odessa, and a cousin of Edmund de Waal’s great-grandfather. They represent the fashion for japonisme at that time; one of Charles’s many passions in a swirling cultural life – he also collected Impressionist paintings, and was the inspiration for Proust’s character Charles Swann. In 1899 he sends the netsuke to his cousin Viktor and his wife Emmy in Vienna.

As the family scatter to escape Nazi persecution, the netsuke are rescued by the family’s old servant. Passed to safety from their hiding place inside her mattress, they return home to Tokyo with Uncle Iggie, before finding a new home in London.

The Hare With Amber Eyes: The Illustrated Edition

Despite the violent historical upheavals that fall within this narrative’s span, de Waal tells his story sparingly, with an exactness that seems inspired by the netsuke themselves. The e-book is similarly elegant in its design, with a minimalist scrapbook feel, filled with family photos, maps and documents. Slideshow images are very successful at conveying the variety and detail of the netsuke (a carved monkey and its young, for example, tumble over and over in a fiercely playful embrace), but leave one wishing that more could have been shown.

Each illustration can be enlarged with a double-tap for a more detailed full-screen view, and the quality throughout is excellent. Due to the large amount of illustrations, viewing the e-book in landscape format provides the better reading experience, as portrait necessitates flicking back and forwards between pages to find the explanatory text for an image; there are no captions.

The final audio file in the e-book is a reading from the last chapter by the author. A satisfying ending, but beware if you sit back to listen: standby mode will cut off the audio after a few minutes.

The Hare With Amber Eyes: The Illustrated Edition

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