Migrating Objects and Wanderers between Worlds: Cosmopolitan Selves in Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes


  • Eveline Kilian Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin



Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes, family memoir, biography of objects, relationality, cosmopolitanism


Edmund de Waal‘s widely acclaimed family memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010) is a hybrid text that fuses biography, autobiography and the biography of objects and interlaces these with critical reflections on art, transnationality, cross-cultural communication and the development of cosmopolitan identities. This article examines the central role of the collection of netsuke synecdochally evoked in the book’s title that not only provides the pivotal structural element but also the major conceptual focus of the text. I argue that this idiosyncratic gravitational centre effects the permeability of generic boundaries by establishing an intricate relationality between the narrative’s different protagonists, who continuously decentre and reconfigure each other. Moreover, the art objects’ own history of migration and multiple belonging becomes a blueprint for de Waal’s construction of his Jewish ancestors’ highly mobile and cosmopolitan selves, which sidesteps the narrowly circumscribed vision of national or religious identities. The full extent of these connections is revealed through an examination of the author’s artistic vision, his ceramic art and art criticism. Finally, I will read The Hare with Amber Eyes as an act of restitution in a two-fold sense: as an attempt to undo the politically motivated erasure of some of his ancestors’ traces and as a historical reminder of lived forms of cosmopolitanism that can speak to contemporary debates around globalisation and migration.

Author Biography

Eveline Kilian, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Eveline Kilian is Professor of English at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her major research areas are modernism and interwar literature, metropolitan cultures, life writing, queer subjectivities, trans/gender and queer studies. Her book publications include Life Writing and Space (ed. with Hope Wolf, Ashgate/Routledge, 2016), Queer Futures: Reconsidering Ethics, Activism and the Political (ed. with Elahe Hashemi Yekani and Beatrice Michaelis, Ashgate, 2013), London: Eine literarische Entdeckungsreise (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2008), GeschlechtSverkehrt: Theoretische und literarische Perspektiven des gender-bending (Helmer, 2004) and Momente innerweltlicher Transzendenz: Die Augenblickserfahrung in Dorothy Richardsons Romanzyklus Pilgrimage und ihr ideengeschichtlicher Kontext (Niemeyer, 1997).