The author, Edmund de Waal, is an internationally acclaimed ceramic artist whose works are exhibited in galleries throughout the world. One day, years back, he inherited 264 netsukes, minute Japanese figures, carved out of wood or ivory—family heirlooms since the 1870s. The inheritance, these pieces of art, peak his interest and he embarks on a journey into European history to find out who has handled these small and beautiful creatures, for whom they have been dear and valued, what they might have seen and experienced.
This is the backdrop to this original work, a blend of memoir and fiction, in which de Waal depicts both the netsukes’ history as well as his own family’s. He is a descendant of the wealthy Jewish Ephrussi family – powerful financiers with splendid properties in Paris and Vienna. They were extremely rich and owned magnificent libraries and art collections. But after the devastation of the Second World War, hardly anything was left of the family’s business dynasty but the 264 netsukes.
In the book we join the netsukes on their journey across continents and ages, a story that cuts to the heart, about war and peace, passion and loss.