The White Road: A Pilgrimage of Sorts
Edmund de Waal
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Extraordinary new non-fiction, a gripping blend of history and memoir, by the author of the award-winning and bestselling international sensation, 'The Hare with Amber Eyes'.
In The White Road, bestselling author and artist Edmund de Waal gives us an intimate narrative history of his lifelong obsession with porcelain, or "white gold." A potter who has been working with porcelain for more than forty years, de Waal describes how he set out on five journeys to places where porcelain was dreamed about, refined, collected and coveted - and that would help him understand the clay's mysterious allure. From his studio in London, he starts by travelling to three "white hills" - sites in China, Germany and England that are key to porcelain's creation. But his search eventually takes him around the globe and reveals more than a history of cups and figurines; rather, he is forced to confront some of the darkest moments of twentieth-century history.
Part memoir, part history, part detective story, 'The White Road' chronicles a global obsession with alchemy, art, wealth, craft and purity. In a sweeping yet intimate style that recalls 'The Hare with Amber Eyes', de Waal gives us a singular understanding of "the spectrum of porcelain" and the mapping of desire.
just before you got up, and it still rankles. There was more Maotai last night. I’d forgotten what it is to be on someone else’s expense account, in China. This is the Monday antiques market, more than 200 people sitting or squatting on the ground with their wares in front of them, some on cloth, some on red cloth, some on red cloth with brocade and others straight on to the concrete. It is packed. Behind the sellers are their bicycles, scooters and carts. Threaded with buyers haggling, picking
bundled up under guard and hurried out and down and into a carriage to Königstein Castle, because the Swedish armies are approaching and he is valuable property. All the precious treasures from the Kunstkammer at the castle in Dresden are arriving in the morning, to be guarded in this fortress, a slab of sandstone 250 metres above the river. A child might imagine life as an ascent, a graph line leading to the left and up, shedding as you go, but for Böttger it is actually a return to the same
Kingsbridge, some twenty miles away. But then he is invited to visit Meeting in the villages in the deep countryside with sometimes only a few Friends in a room, and he starts to preach. In the deep lanes there is trefoil and comfrey, the simples which he can take back to his new laboratory. Slowly he starts to use these journeyings more systematically. Riding covers the ground and you can see over the hedges, see the lie of the land. And you are at the height of a branch of crab apples, Malus
lie on a white bench. And unaker was used both to insulate their houses – ‘wattled with twigs like a basket’ in the words of an eighteenth-century traveller, and then ‘covered with clay, very smooth, and sometimes white-washed’ – and to make them beautiful. Imagine the luminescence of a white space, the faintest glimmer of mica. A porcelain room. The Europeans didn’t ‘discover’ this hillside of white clay. The white pipes and these white houses drew them to this seam that the Cherokees were so
twelve, working in the plate room at Wm. Adams and Sons, who turns a jigger for John Joplap. Dr Scriven records if their parents are alive and if they are working; there was a strike three years before and many are still unemployed. You get detail on how much each part of the family earns, how much they contribute to the household. You hear about the work. The boy at the dipping tub and the boy who helps pack the kilns and the boy who runs moulds and wedges clay for Wm. Bentley who ‘licks me