264 delicate wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox, that stand as a symbol of the extraordinary events that overtake one family.
By Edmund de Waal. Read by Nicholas Murchie.
264 delicate wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox - that stand as a symbol of the extraordinary events that overtake one family.
Potter Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered this collection in the Tokyo apartment of his great uncle Iggie. Later, when Edmund inherited the 'netsuke', they unlocked a story far larger than he could ever have imagined.
His family the Ephrussis came from Odessa, and at one time were the largest grain exporters in the world; in the 1870s, Charles Ephrussi was part of a wealthy new generation settling in Paris. Charles's passion was collecting; emerging French painters and - when Japanese art and artists became all the rage in the salons - he bought an entire collection of netsuke and sent them as a wedding present to his banker cousin in Vienna.
Later, three children - including a young Ignace - would play with the netsuke as history reverberated around them. The Anschluss and Second World War swept the Ephrussis to the brink of oblivion. Almost all that remained of their vast empire was the netsuke collection, dramatically saved by a loyal maid when their huge Viennese palace was occupied.
Edmund de Waal travels the world to stand in the great buildings his forebears once inhabited. He traces the network of a remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century and tells the story of a unique collection.
Abridged by Polly Coles
Producer: Clive Brill
A Pacificus Production for BBC Radio 4.