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 three biggest influences on his writing have been Primo Levi’s The Wrench, Vasily Grossman and W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. I’ve only read Levi on this list…but I suspect that the other two will find their way onto my ever increasing TBR list.
Edmund is also friends with A.S. Byatt and Vikram Seth. Two authors that have written some of my all time favourite books. In fact, Edmund met A.S. Byatt when she approached him for help with potting…which she needed to write The Children’s Book.
According to de Waal, most 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 The Hare With the Amber Eyes as he is about to start on a second book and wants to focus everything on that.
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.