Edmund de Waal
All quotes from the hardcover first American edition, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 978-0-374-10597-6, 1st printing
Spelling as in the book. Ellipses either represent brief elisions of examples, or are used for the sake of continuity
- Melancholy, I think, is a sort of default vagueness, a get-out clause, a smothering lack of focus.
- Prologue (p. 16)
- I have been working long enough as a potter to know that being commissioned is an extremely delicate business. You are grateful, of course, but gratitude is different from feeling indebted. It is an interesting question for any artist: how long must you go on feeling grateful once someone has bought your work?
- Chapter 9, “Even Ephrussi fell for it” (p. 82)
- ‘All quite openly, publicly and legally’ were words that Elisabeth was to hear repeated back to her. She discovered that on the list of priorities in a shattered society, the restitution of property to those from whom it had been sequestered came near the bottom. Many of those who had appropriated Jewish property were now respected citizens of the new Austrian Republic. This was also a government that rejected reparations, because in their view Austria had been an occupied country between 1938 and 1945; Austria had become the ‘first victim’, rather than an agent in the war.
- Chapter 29, “All quite openly, publicly and legally” (p. 285)
- In the 1960s, my grandmother Elisabeth, so assiduous in her letter-writing, such an advocate for the letter (‘write again, write more fully’), burnt the hundreds of letters and notes she had received from her poetic grandmother Evelina.
Not ‘Who would be interested?’ But ‘Don’t come near this. This is private.’…
There is something about that burning of all those letters that gives me pause: why should everything be made clear and be brought into the light? Why keep things, archive your intimacies? Why not let thirty years of shared conversation go spiralling in ash up into the air of Tunbridge Wells? Just because you have it does not mean you have to pass it on. Losing things can sometimes gain you a space in which to live….
The problem is that I am in the wrong century to burn things. I am the wrong generation to let it go. I think of a library carefully sorted into boxes. I think of all those careful burnings by others, the systematic erasing of stories, the separations between people and their possessions, and then of people from their families and families from their neighbourhoods. And then from their country.
- Chapter 37, “Yellow/Gold/Red” (pp. 347-348)
- ‘Don’t you think those netsuke should stay in Japan?’ said a stern neighbour of mine in London. And I find I am shaking as I answer, because this matters….
No I answer. Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost. People have always given gifts. It is how you tell their stories that matters.
- Chapter 37, “Yellow/Gold/Red” (p. 348)