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The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai [Kindle Edition]

Helen Dewitt
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Amazon Review

Helen DeWitt's extraordinary debut novel The Last Samurai centres on the relationship between Sibylla, a single mother of precocious and rigorous intelligence, and her son Ludo, who, through his mother's singular attitude to education, develops into a prodigy of learning. He reads Homer in the original Greek at the age of four before moving onto Hebrew, Japanese, Old Norse and Inuit; studying advanced mathematical techniques (Fourier analysis and Laplace transformations), and, as the title hints, endlessly watching and analysing Akira Kurosawa's cinematic masterpiece The Seven Samurai. But the one question that eludes an answer is that of the name of his father: Sibylla believes the Japanese film obliquely provides the male role models that Ludo's genetic father cannot supply, and refuses to be drawn on the question of paternal identity. The child thinks differently, however, and eventually sets out on a search for his lost father, a search which leads him beyond the certainties of acquired knowledge into the complex and messy world of adults.

The book draws on themes topical and perennial--the hothousing of children, the familiar literary trope of the quest for the (absent) father--and as such, the book divides itself into two halves: the first describes the education of Ludo, the second follows Ludo in his search for his father and father figures. The first stresses a sacred, Apollonian pursuit of logic, precise (if wayward) erudition and the erratic and endlessly fascinating architecture of languages, while the second moves this knowledge into the preterite world of emotion, human ambitions and their attendant frustrations and failures.

This is a book about the pleasure of ideas, of the rich varieties of human thought, the possibilities that life offers us and, ultimately, about the balance between the structures we make of the world and the irredeemable chaos that the world proffers in return. Stylistically, the novel mirrors this ambivalence: DeWitt's remarkable prose follows the shifts and breaks of human consciousness and memory, and captures the intrusions of unspoken thought that punctuate conversation, while providing tantalising disquisitions on, for example, Japanese grammar or the physics of aerodynamics. The Last Samurai is a remarkable, profound and often very funny book. "Arigato DeWitt-sensei"--and after reading this, you'll want to look it up too. --Burhan Tufail


"An original, daring novel, The Last Samurai could well become a classic" (Times Literary Supplement)

"De Witt has intelligence, wit and unusual stylistic bravery" (Guardian)

"Fresh electrifying talent" (New York Times)

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1010 KB
  • Print Length: 548 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0786887001
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (31 May 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004ZLS4OY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #142,706 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
'The Last Samurai' is an extremely entertaining, thought-provoking and stylishly written debut novel that was deservedly short-listed for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Read this novel if for no other reason than that it is incredibly funny: indeed, I have to go back a couple of decades to recall a book of any description that has made me laugh out loud more, and there is one page of this text that had me in paroxysms of laughter (in the middle of a popular cafe...) But this novel - about a single mother, Sibylla, and her unconventional child-rearing of young Ludo as he seeks to uncover the identity of his father - has many other qualities. DeWitt's writing is exhilarating, incorporating first-person narratives from both Sibylla and Ludo, with an eclectic mix of material from sources as diverse as Akira Kurosawa's screenplay for 'The Seven Samurai' and Homer's 'Odyssey', to mathematics and the wonders of Japanese 'Kanji' characters - and the odd smatterings of languages as diverse as Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and Finnish for good measure!! 'The Last Samurai' will particularly appeal to those who consider the acquisition of knowledge and learning to be critical to the development of both individuals and society. DeWitt makes some serious points in the course of 'The Last Samurai', particularly about the dumbing down of society and the shortcomings of education systems in dealing with gifted children, but also about parenting issues and the importance of identity to our individual well-being. I absolutely loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! 16 Nov 2004
Author DeWitt expresses her admiration, at one point, for "the type of person who thinks boredom a fate worse than death." And she obviously writes for this type of reader as she performs amazing literary and scholarly acrobatics in this unique and energetic novel which never flags--and certainly never bores! Although DeWitt incorporates many esoteric subjects here--Japanese language, Greek verbs, Icelandic verse, Fourier's analysis, Arabic, astrophysics, and tournament chess, bridge, and piquet, among other things--she does this so entertainingly that they enhance, rather than obscure, the human story at the heart of the novel, even for readers like me with little interest in many of these subjects.
Sybilla is the hard-working, single mother of Ludo, a 6-year-old genius who gobbles up even the most complicated subjects, seemingly overnight. Despite his precocity, however, Ludo is a very engaging and in many ways, typical, child, and the relationship between mother and son is mutually warm, respectful, and endearingly protective. Both Sybilla and Ludo are fans of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, and this forms the framework of the novel when Ludo decides to test seven fascinating and brilliant men Sybilla has known to see which, if any, of them might be his unknown father.
This book has everything. It is funny and sad and disarming and challenging--simultaneously amusing and poignant, and thought-provoking. The many layers which emerge as Ludo engages in his quest should keep readers, critics, and book clubs intrigued and entertained for years. But the book is at heart an absorbing human story--of identity, of aspirations and achievement, and, ultimately, of the love and connection which makes our personal journeys worthwhile. A wonder-filled achievement from beginning to totally satisfying end. Mary Whipple
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow Starting, But Worth It 3 Mar 2003
This is certainly a hard book to summarize, and definitely isn't for the impatient reader, with stories within stories, a ten year timespan, obscure scholarly references, and a narrative shift midway from an adult woman to her genius son. Set in London, the story follows a single mother of wild intelligence and her son Ludo, a boy of prodigal talents in languages, math, and anything else he puts his mind to. The title comes from Kurosawa's masterpiece "The Seven Samurai" which the mother has an almost obsessive reverence for, watching and rewatching it constantly as a mystic might repeat a mantra to reach enlightenment. She feels the film's characters serve as much better male role models to Ludo than his biological father ever could be, and thus refuses to tell the boy who his father is. The tension between Ludo's real needs, and his mother's idealistic notions of what he needs is rather reminiscent of the mother/son relationship in Nick Hornby's About A Boy.
The second half of the book shifts to the boy's self-directed ramblings, as he follows the example of the movie and seeks out seven men to test their worthiness as possible fathers. Once this switch to Ludo's voice is made, the book becomes far more successful and enjoyable as it leaves the world of ideas and abstraction (and distraction) for the real world of flawed people and messy lives. Both halves are liberally peppered with excerpts and quotations from the languages and subjects Ludo learns, sometimes leading to stories within stories. Some might find this challenging, but the truth is, while the subjects Ludo studies are certainly challenging, the story is not at all so. When this multilayered approach is attempted in fiction, it usually leads to an over-richness of prose, one is bludgeoned with erudition and fancy writing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle formatting errors make this unreadable
I really wanted to read this having enjoyed the first chapter. However there were odd jumps and discontinuities where paragraphs would stop in the middle of sentences and continue... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Robert
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book.
Great idea, brilliantly executed, probably most enjoyed book this year - just off to watch The Seven Samurai again now with fresh eyes.
Published 9 months ago by ChrisP.
5.0 out of 5 stars Style + substance = wonderful story
Ludo is a child prodigy with a voracious thirst for knowledge; his mother, Sybilla (equally gifted), is trying to earn enough money for them to get by through mind-numbing,... Read more
Published on 21 Jun 2012 by neverendings
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Read
An amazing read, one of the best books I've read, and definitely a new favourite. The way it handles it's subjects with such a nonchalant, young, rational, genius outlook drives... Read more
Published on 30 April 2012 by Ludo
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun book for intellectuals about motherhood? No wonder it didn't sell
Great if uncategorizable book (Simone de Beauvoir meets Adrian Mole?) though by p24 it is evident that the gloriously Nabokovian Dewitt is Too Clever By Half. Nabokov? Read more
Published on 6 Sep 2011 by Simon Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have ever read
I have no grasp whatsoever of why this book is out of print. It is tremendous. When it came out it had understandably fantastic reviews which are all over the cover of my paperback... Read more
Published on 13 April 2010 by catnipmatador
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful and entertaining novel
Although much has been said already in the glowing reviews this book has justly gotten, I want to add my own voice to the chorus of praise. Read more
Published on 11 May 2009 by M. A. Krul
5.0 out of 5 stars Good reading, once the horizon has stabilised
This book is certainly a virtuoso performance. The only problem in such cases, is that sometimes the display of virtuosity can seem to become an end in itself, as with John... Read more
Published on 3 July 2007 by Paul Magnussen
5.0 out of 5 stars highly original and highly recommended
The reviews below outline the plot of this wonderful, over-looked book. I bought it while on holiday in Australia in 2000 and I have reread it many times - one of few books to... Read more
Published on 28 May 2007 by L. Gardiner
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Fun !
I thoroughly enjoyed the eccentricities of both mother and child in this lively romp through a precocious boy's search for a suitable male role model. Read more
Published on 8 Feb 2007 by Paul St John Miller
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