During a stay in Japan, Edmund de Waal, the author of the book, admires the netsuke (miniature ivory sculptures from Japan) of his great-uncle Ignace von Ephrussi, who lives in Tokyo. The inheritance of the 264 netsuke arouses Edmunds curiosity about the collections origins. He discovers that they were bought by Edmund's great-grandfather, Charles Ephrussi, in Paris in the 1870s. The story of the netsuke is related to the history of the Ephrussi family, a Jewish family of wheat traders, originally from Odessa and who, over time, became bankers, with offices in all the major European capitals. Edmunds quest leads him through the Paris of Proust and Monet, and a time of growing anti-Semitism and the Dreyfus affair, right up to the present day. This book gives insight into the lives of a rich Jewish family around 1900 and beyond, at both a personal and broader level.