Edmund de Waal, a British artist and the son of a clergyman of the Church of England, knew he was missing a vital part of himself, but he wasn’t sure what it was. A middle-aged married father of three, he had spent his adult life ensconced in his London studio, where he made thousands of porcelain pots in various shades of white, some of them lidded and others not, many of them marred by imperfections of one sort or another. His work was melancholy, and emanated an energy both compelling and disturbing. Perhaps de Waal was simply trying to make sense of an ancient tragedy that was part of his heritage. Regardless, a better understanding of himself was part of his mission.
In his recent memoir, “The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss,” de Waal describes his decision to explore his family’s history, prompted by an unusual inheritance he received from his great Uncle Iggie: Two hundred and sixty four netsuke carvings, miniature Japanese sculptures made of ivory, wood and bone.