I posted a book review for The Hare with Amber Eyes from More Intelligent Life several months ago. The writer of the review, Fiammetta Rocco, recently wrote a follow-up piece also published in Intelligent Life. I am posting the first page here. The entire piece runs to five pages. It is worth reading in its entirety.
“The de Waal family gathered en masse in October for the launch of the Austrian edition. Edmund came by train, fresh from his German book tour. His wife, Sue Chandler, and their two sons flew in from London. His father Victor, now 82, was there too. Jiro Sugiyama came from Tokyo and invited the family to stay at the Grand Hotel which, like the Palais Ephrussi, had once been a private house, home to a Jewish banker and his grand-daughter.
The Palais Ephrussi is now owned by a law firm which bought it in 2009 for a reported €65m. (Elisabeth de Waal got just $30,000 in compensation for it from the Austrian government after the war.) The law firm invited Edmund and the other Ephrussi descendants to tea. Victor, who hadn’t been back to the house for nearly three-quarters of a century, showed his grandsons his old playroom and a hidden route to the roof. In the evening, the publisher’s guests stepped over the initials “JE” (for Joachim Ephrussi, the founder of the family) set in the marble entrance and gathered around de Waal in the courtyard. In his familiar floppy dark suit and thin tie, he stood on the spot where Emmy’s marquetry desk had come crashing down over the balcony, the first Ephrussi to address a gathering there since before the war.
“You cannot imagine how scary it is to do this,” he began. “If I had understood quite what I’d been given when I was given these little Japanese things I would have run away. In my naivety, I thought I could take six months off from my studio, run to Paris, skip off to Vienna, write my book, give it to my father to read and that would be that.
“But I had made a very stupid and personal pact, which was to go to every single place and be in every single space that these things had been and try and understand the feeling of the people who held them. And that, of course, was madness.
“When I began this book, I had not thought through what it would take to tell the story of 1938. It is still history you can reach out and touch. It’s history that unfolded hour by hour, day by day, in this house. The violence. The separation.
“When, after eight years, my grandmother returned, it was not to an empty house, but to an emptied house.
“I find that I am the same person and a different person. I make the same pots and I make different pots. I sit at my wheel and I think about the collections of porcelain that I make and I think about diaspora and stories and place. The process that has brought me here today has given back the story. Not the story about the dynasty, the banks, the gilding. That’s not the point. The point is that it is a family story, and like all family stories it goes on and on. This family story was given to me when I was given these objects.
“Restitution is a very loaded word. It has so many cadences. It is giving what has been stolen and looted. Of my grandfather’s library there is no trace. There are paintings hanging all over Vienna, all over Germany that were taken from this house. And that’s a crime, a straightforward crime.
“Yet there is also another restitution; the restitution of the story. What Anna gave back to my grandmother was continuity, it was her story, and it was giving with incredible evenhandedness. For me ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’ has been the restitution to Vienna of this story, this family and this place.”
As he reached out to beckon his father and his young sons to join him on the podium, de Waal knew this was another milestone. But not the end of the story. The fellow guests who heard him tell the tale for the first time at that Harvard conference six years earlier had urged him to pick an unforgettable title. The original choice was “Anna’s Pocket”. Until de Waal finds out who Anna was and what became of her, there will always be a bit of the untold story driving him on.
Picture: the hare with amber eyes, one of de Waal’s collection of netsuke, that gave his book its title
Fiammetta Rocco is the Books and Arts editor of The Economist and the author of “The Miraculous Fever Tree”
read the balance of the piece using the following link http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/arts/fiammetta-rocco/edmund-de-waal?page=0%2C4