Further writing

The hare marches on

The Sunday Times
6 November 2011

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There are books that fall open at a sheaf of glossy coloured illustrations. You look at this collation of portraits of people you don’t yet know — the author’s great-grandparents, possibly, in their funny hats, a sepia view of a castle — and wonder at the hubris of it all. Memoir, you think, as you put the book back on the table in the bookshop, leads writers and publishers to this kind of slightly operatic book. It is too big, it is something you can hardly read. You know you would spend your time flicking between these words and images so crudely put asunder, checking which big gilt frame relates to which generation of this family. It is an illustrated book and all the conventions are in place.

With these hands

By Edmund de Waal, FT Weekend
11 March 2011

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When I was a child there was a truism that anyone could make something (a rabbit hutch, say) or mend something (a bicycle) if they had a classical education. It was felt that using intellectual tools – parsing a bit of Latin history, constructing an argument – was training enough for taking on the material world. Learning gave you a steady approach to the tricksiness of the world of things. Lurking behind this belief was an attitude of de haut en bas; condescension towards those working with their hands.

The objects that we love tell a story

By Edmund de Waal, The Telegraph
7 January 2011

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I am a potter and I have just won the Costa Biography Prize. I keep trying this sentence out, but 12 hours later it still makes little sense. My previous great public moment was collecting a silver medal in a Ceramics Biennale in Korea for one of my tall porcelain jars, so I am not exactly inured to the big time.

All day at my studio, down a rather grubby track in south London – past a takeaway and the Tote bookies, just before a car repair shop – I’ve been talking to journalists. Explaining the story behind the book: how I traced an inherited collection of little Japanese carvings called netsuke back through my Russian Jewish family to Paris, Vienna, Odessa and Tokyo over a span of 150 years

God of small things

By Edmund de Waal, The Guardian
29 May 2010

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Netsuke are very small. Smaller than a matchbox, often as small as the joint of my little-finger, these Japanese ivory, bone and wooden carvings are hard explosions of exactitude. You roll them in your hands and find the carver has added a joke: the tail of a disappearing rat, a deliquescent plum fallen from a basket. Some of the netsuke are studies in running movement, so that your fingers move along a surface of uncoiling rope or spilt water. Others have small, congested movements that knot your touch: a girl in a wooden bath, a vortex of clam shells. Some do both, surprising you: an intricately ruffled dragon leans against a simple rock. You work your fingers round the smoothness and stoniness of the ivory to meet this sudden density of dragon. There is often a supplementary pleasure in finding where the signature of the carver is placed, on the sole of a sandal, the end of a branch, the thorax of a hornet.

Tokyo, Japan: My kind of town

By Edmund de Waal, The Telegraph
25 May 2010

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Why Tokyo? I spent a happy year here. It is an unexpected city, not a homogenised J G Ballard city of the future but a series of small and distinct neighbourhoods. It can be startlingly beautiful.