On Austria, Assimilation and Art - The Hare With The Amber Eyes

I have been super busy these last few days, as I'm sure that you gathered from my lack of posting and commenting on all of your blogs. 
It is the season, after all, and the Christmas crunch is on.

Do you read only one book at a time or do you have several books going simultaneously?
I generally have 3 entirely different types of books going at the same time; a downloaded audio book on my iPod, a downloaded book on my nook (like a kindle) and an actual physical book.

Last week while finishing 'The Hare with the Amber Eyes' on my nook and 'Marie Antoinette' on my iPod, I was struck with the similar theme that runs through both books, the concept of being 'The Other'. 

No matter how Francais the Austrian born Marie Antoinette became, including bearing the dauphin, she was never truly accepted as the Queen of France.  She was libeled and maligned in print in Paris.  She was accused of cuckolding the King and of having numerous lovers.  She was blamed for adding to the national debt, for hoarding wheat during the low harvest and for virtually everything else that was wrong in France.  No matter what she did  for France, she remained 'The Other', an easy target and scapegoat for all that was wrong.

Stepping into the next century we have the flourishing of the Ephrussi family, a highly successful Russian Jewish Family that expanded their grain trading business in Odessa into a European banking powerhouse that rivaled the Rothchilde's. With branches of the family in London, Paris, Lucerne and Vienna, the great wealth enabled the family to become patrons of the arts and of the cultures of their respective cities.

Note the man in the top hat in Renoir's The Boating Party.  That was Charles Ephrussi, art historian, owner of the Parisian art journal La Gazette and patron of the Impressionists. 
He was also the model of Proust's character Charles Swann of 'Rememberance of Things Past'.

Amongst his vast art collection was a group of 264 netsuke which he purchased at the onset of the French fascination with all things Japonnais in 19th Century Paris.
'The Hare With The Amber Eyes' traces the journey of these netsuke from Charles'  elegantly art filled Palais Ephrussi to his nephew and niece at the Ephrussi Palais on the Ringstrasse in Vienna, to post WW2 Japan and finally to the author, British artist and Eprhussi descendant, Edmund de Waal.

As with the great nouveau riche families of 19th Century Europe, the Viennese branch of the Ephrussi were highly educated. Vicktor read history as he reluctantly took over as the head of the bank.  His daughter Elisabeth Ephrussi was the first woman to graduate with a degree in Law from the University of Vienna. All members of the family spoke Russian, French, English and German fluently.  They were full citizens of the Hapsburg Empire and loyal supporters of the Emperor.  They were titled. 
They were completely assimilated.
Or so they though.

All this of course changed with Kristallnacht.
They were 'The Other'.
But unlike Marie Antoinette, they were able to leave everything behind and survive.

This week I've been thinking about Thanksgiving, and about all of the things that I am thankful for...and there many. On this most American of holidays, I am indeed thankful that America is perhaps the only country where immigrants can indeed assimilate and become truly American. 

'The Hare With The Amber Eyes' is the best book that I have read all year and if you like History and Art History I encourage you to read it.