Happy the man who develops an obsessive interest early in life that remains with him and that he can turn to constructive account. Edmund de Waal is such a man: he alighted on ceramics as a boy and they have remained the focus of his working life ever since.

To the general public, however, he is probably more known as the author of The Hare with Amber Eyes than as a ceramic artist. That book, which became a surprise bestseller throughout the world, recounted the story of one side of his family, an enormously rich pan-European banking family originating in Odessa, through the checkered fate of a collection of netsuke that he had inherited. This was not merely a family saga, but an account of the virtual destruction of an entire civilization and way of life, a theme of...


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