I found this a gripping, brilliant, warm-hearted book. And yes, a fascinating view of European anti-semitism. I didn't think there was anything fictional about it - just remarkably creative. This book is very high on my list of books which have opened my eyes.
The more I read the more I wondered how much was memoir and how much was historical-fiction. Near the end of his book de Waal admits: “…I tell [a Ukrainian acquaintance] why we’ve come [to Odessa], that I’m writing a book about – I stumble to a halt. I no longer know if this book is about my family, or memory, or myself, or is still a book about small Japanese things. (p. 342)” While the central theme of this book are the carved Japanese netsuke why aren't these 'bibelots' illustrated in the photographs? The author tends to use obscure words ('amanuensis') when a wider known word would aid the flow of reading ('secretary'). A fascinating chronicle of the "Jewish problem" in Europe over the past two centuries.
I was uncomfortable in the world of privilege portrayed in this book.
Not for me. Can't decide if it's meant to be a biography, an art history lesson or if he decided after the fact that he needed a theme (netsuke) to link together all his research into his family history. Seems like someone told him that he was spending too much time doing this research (and not ceramics) and that he better find a financial outlet for his work!
De Waal's prose is carefully crafted as his pots (He's a brilliant ceramicist). This is an absorbing and atmospheric memoir. Intensely visual, it would make a great movie.
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