My book review of 'Letters to Camondo' by Edmund de Waal

Letters to Camondo

by Edmund de Waal
Letters to Camondo
by Edmund de Waal

I have to begin by confessing that I have never managed to read 'The Hare with the Amber Eyes', the bestselling memoir by this author. But I've seen that as something lacking in me, so I was eager to take a look at his latest book. And it's rather beautiful - composed of short letters, photographs, and a poignant, nostalgic, melancholic tone.

The Count Moïse de Camondo lived a few doors away from Edmund de Waal's forebears, the Ephrussi. Both families were part of belle époque high society, and were also targets of anti-semitism.

The Count filled his house with French eighteenth century art, the greatest private collection, for his son to inherit. But Nissim de Camondo was killed in the First World War, and the house became a memorial bequeathed to France.

In this series of letters addressed to the Count, Edmund de Waal explores the lavish rooms and investigates the archives to uncover layers of the family story. The emptiness of the building, and this one-sided correspondence is haunting and lugubrious, though very occasionally whimsical and wry.

I loved the passage about dust: "Dust comes from something. It shows something has happened, shows what has been disturbed or changed in the world. It marks time...Without dust...it is hard to find the traces."

Review date: December 2021
Publication date: 22nd April 2021