Monday 21 May 2012

Edmund de Waal

I'm going to break my self-imposed silence to tell you about the Sydney Writers Festival event I went to yesterday.

Edmund de Waal of The Hare With the Amber Eyes fame spoke to Caroline Baum. This was one of my favourite books of last year, so I moved heaven and earth to get to the Opera House by 2.30 yesterday.

And I was well rewarded.

My first observation was that I was the youngest person in the room. At 44 I don't get to feel that very often anymore! But it gave me cause to reflect on the people who read memoirs and the people who have the time and money to attend writer's festival events!

Edmund (at age 48) was quietly erudite. He spoke with humility and grace. He was emotional and very giving of his time and thoughts. I feel that my appreciation for The Hare has deepened and expanded. If I had the luxury of rereading time, I would have started the book again last night.

As a result of The Hare's success, Edmund's grandmother's "unpublishable" book from the 1950's is about to be published for the first time. The Hare is going to be made in to a movie and his father has been able to return to the home of his birth in Vienna to wander around the old rooms once more.

The 3 biggest influences on his writing have been Primo Levi's The Wrench, Vasily Grossman and Austerlitz by WG Sebald. I've only read Levi on this list...but I suspect that the other 2 will find their way onto my ever increasing TBR list. 

Edmund is also friends with AS Byatt and Vikram Seth! Two authors that have written some of my all time favourite books. In fact, Edmund met AS Byatt when she approached him for help with potting...which she needed to write The Children's Book.

The Germans and Austrians have received The Hare very well, whereas the French have virtually ignored it. They seem to be upset that an Englishman dared to write about Proust (he referred to Proust's writing as an "anatomy of snobbery").
Edmund was also quite scathing about the "poisonous" undercurrant of anti-Semitism that has always existed in French society - something he feels has never been addressed by the French because of its deeply hidden and embedded nature and because it still exists. There was obviously no love lost there!

This is the last time that Edmund will be speaking publically about this book as he is about to start on a second one.

I was grateful to be part of his final audience and look forward to book #2.

Here is the link so you can listen to the interview on Radio National.

Happy Listening!


  1. I bought this book a while back and it's sitting here waiting for me to find the right time. But after reading your post, I'm thinking I'll move it up on my list. I first heard of THE HARE WITH THE AMBER EYES from Nancy Pearl who raved about it. Nancy is one of my book gurus. If she loves a book the chances are I will too.

    How fortunate you are to have been able to see and hear Edmund de Waal in person.

  2. Lucky you getting to go to this! I bought the beautiful illustrated version of this book for a present and gave it away. I didn't even sneak a read of it before I gave it away! I'd still like to read it. His SWF talk was broadcast on Radio National this week, I heard a little bit of it while in the car this week. Hoping to listen to the full thing this weekend.

    1. Thanks for posting the radio national link, I've been waiting for it to appear on their homepage...I'll add it to my post for thise not lucky enough to have heard it yet.

  3. I read and enjoyed his book so thanks for your description of this wonderful event. I especially appreciate your mention of de Waal's influences as I just picked up a used copy of The Emigrants by Sebald and have a couple of books by Grossman on my tbr pile.


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