By Anita Sethi
The Southbank is strung with beautiful Winter lights outside, and inside is an enlightening experience, too, as this weekend sees the Economist Books of the Year festival, with a veritable feast of a programme. It got off to a rollicking start with a talk by Edmund de Waal, author of the acclaimed book, The Hare With Amber Eyes, which scooped the Costa Book Award for Biography and the Ondaatje Prize. Last month I chaired the Southbank Centre Book Club on The Hare With Amber Eyes and the response from participants was phenomenal, with discussion ranging far and wide across the globe, from the extraordinary journey Edmund de Waal undertook tracing the history of the Japanese netsuke he inherited – 264 wood and ivory carvings of plants and people and animals – to what ‘things’ and objects mean in our own lives. The complexities and fascinations of family history were also unpicked by Simon Sebag Montefiore through his compelling book Jerusalem: the Biography – the author is a descendant of the first European to be allowed by the Ottomans to visit the Temple Mount and uses family diaries and memoirs as a key to unlock the mysteries of yet undiscovered terrains of the past.
Objects are indeed a continuing theme throughout the weekend with a talk by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, about the fascinating History of the World in 100 Objects, which traces a journey through both time and geography discovering how things reveal who we are – from ancient tools such as handaxes to modern contraptions that it seems we could not do without such as the credit card.
Today grand themes ranging from war to love to science are on the menu, with the haunting memoir by Janine di Giovanni, Ghosts by Daylight, to Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw who will later this evening do no less than explain the deepest questions of life and the universe through the complexities of quantum physics – a talk I, for one, wouldn’t miss for the world.