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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzlingly well-written, totally engaging and lots of fun
'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...
Published on 23 Aug 2005 by gavinrob2001

versus
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 three or four pages later. I can only assume that the printed book has a layout that does not translate to Kindle.
Published 5 months ago by Robert


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzlingly well-written, totally engaging and lots of fun, 23 Aug 2005
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Paperback)
'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
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Hardcover)
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
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Paperback)
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. DeWitt manages to avoid this for the most part, keeping each tale enjoyable in its own right and never losing track of Ludo's story. It's an admirable achievement, especially impressive for a first novel. Be warned however, the first few chapters kind of bounce around, and it takes a while to get into the heart and flow of things.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars buried treasures of wit and meaning, 27 Feb 2002
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This review is from: The Last Samurai (Hardcover)
Helen DeWitt as writer of The Last Samurai goes straight to the top to join Swift, Joyce & Beckett as my literary heroes. This work of black humour and dead-pan virtuosity brings the Enlightenment into the present day vernacular.
The selection sequence from Kurasawa's movie the 7 Samurai provides the frame by which the boy Ludo explores the seven potential candidates for the role of father. Each man is tested by his ability to "parry the blow" of paternity, so prove himself a real samurai. Each of these encounters is a tragi-comic gem in its own right up to the final one, the Last Samurai, the one who has the answers. The elan with which DeWitt sustains the development of plot and character up to the triumphant last word is breathtaking. Yet there is more to it than the intricacies of the story. The understanding of language, art, music, games is underpinned with passages of astounding beauty. It is also profound. Whether in Tescos or the steppes of Asia, there is cruelty and heroism, suicidal despair and life-redeeming hope.
Buy the hardback version. This is a book to cherish, buried treasures of wit and meaning emerging with each re-reading, and the decorative character of the typography, pages of Japanese characters and mathematical calculations inserted seamlessly as integral illustrations, as pictures of the mind at work, is enhanced by the quality of print and paper, worthy of a present-day Gutenberg.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great novel, 3 Jan 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Hardcover)
The Last Samurai is a great book. It is also a book about great things. Quest. Linguistic discovery. Lyricism and motherhood. Each time I picked it up I felt I was reading something brand new. This was a weird feeling because language is so difficult to entice into "the new." But DeWitt has done it with this book. And the writing is so smart. At times it feels poetic. At other times it feels theoretic. Mostly it feels organic. That is why, utlimately, it is such a beautiful and ambitious text. Because the language is so intellectual and so vernacular at the same time. Nothing better in a novel. And what about Ludo. I think there is a commonly shared fantasy amongst people that, at one time or another, we have wished to have that kind of intelligence. There is something so pure about the young child with an intellect so highly developed. Ludo is a beautiful character. This book is a great book about great things. Bravo.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Daft Sidis error, more engaging than Carpworld, 15 Sep 2001
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Hardcover)
This is a difficult, playful novel. Sibylla is the mother of Ludo, a precociously intelligent child. An American expat who fibbed her way into Oxford, Sibylla now lives in London and single motherhood. She has to earn a living, so she works at home typing endless pages of Carpworld. However, having a ferociously intelligent young son in the same room as she works is more than a little distracting. One of the delights of The Last Samurai is the technique DeWitt uses to place you in the same room as Ludo and Sibylla. Ludo is not introduced as such into the text, he barges his way through like the headstrong and loud toddler that he is. The free style of the text is only natural following the typing of so many copies of Carpworld.
Sibylla is a quite unconventional mother. Despite her love for London, England (the only place in the world that you can buy Alaska Fried Chicken), Sibylla is still very much an alien. She makes an elementary error when she takes Ludo to the local school at the age of six, and discovers that schooling begins at five in Britain. Although she has had friends in the past, to whom she alludes via pseudonyms, her life with Ludo is all time-consuming and isolated. Ludo is the result of a drunken fumble, and Sibylla cannot bring herself to get back in contact with Ludo's father, who's more a frog intellectually than a prince. Thus Ludo is beset by the mystery of his father's identity. To make up for the lack of male role figures in Ludo's life, Sibylla takes to watching Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai with her son repeatedly. Although Ludo gets to learn a lot of Japanese from it, he stills feels a hole in his life and so embarks on a search for his father. Like Oedipus, Ludo has to work out his father's identity by striving to interpret his mother's riddles. But Ludo is only too aware that there is a gulf at the centre of Sibylla's life, for she has tried to kill herself before...
No doubt many readers will be put off by the amount of intellectual activity within this novel. Sibylla is shocked when she reads a schoolbook on Samurai and finds that it's full of errors. Yet Helen DeWitt does make one singular mistake that hasn't been picked up by her editors. On page 29, she refers to the American child prodigy Boris Sidis. However, the child prodigy's father was the famous psychologist "Boris Sidis", and the child prodigy's name was "William James Sidis". This mistake is unfortunate since one of the big themes of the book is child prodigies and hothousing. DeWitt offers the Sidis tale as an example of the horror story for all parents who embark on hothousing: the child prodigy who burns out at an early age. Yet this is the popular view of Sidis as presented by the US press, and does not comprise the whole story. Dan Mahony has done a great deal of research on William James Sidis and discovered that he did a whole load of very important work at the same time that the public viewed him as burnt out. The reason why this work remains largely unknown was because Sidis went to great lengths to hide himself from the unwanted attention of the Press, and published anonymously. One of the downsides of hothousing and self-education is that you can be quite ignorant of some basic things, as Ludo later discovers in the book. Going round in rhomboids on the Circle Line has done nothing for Ludo's knowledge of geography.
There is something balladic about The Last Samurai's structure. What goes around does come around. It is very pleasing to see strands from the earlier part of the novel coming to fruition towards the end. However, one might suspect that Helen DeWitt has cobbled lots of good stories together (her bio on the dustjacket does say that she's worked on loads of novels before this one). It helps her plot that Sibylla went to Oxford, a pivot around which a few of the men in the novel dance. Although she had to fake her way into Oxford, Sibylla does fit in there, as she is rich in cultural capital - perhaps richer than she ought to be, given her motel background. The flitting around from place to place in her childhood would seem to reflect DeWitt's background as the daughter of an American diplomat who had assignments in various Latin American countries. I don't think it's a coincidence that Ludo prefers The Odyssey to The Iliad, with its epic quest for home.
Helen DeWitt certainly lives up to her name. The humour is brilliant and quite vital. I loved Ludo's scenes in school. For the most part, I admired the narration of Ludo very much. The novel does really come alive when we see the world from his point of view for the first time. As there is wit, so there is darkness and poignancy, which seemed to be combined during the scenes where Ludo's father keeps interrupting the boy's consciousness (much as Ludo the toddler kept barging in on Sibylla's typing of Carpworld). I've written a play with themes similar to the Red Devlin sequence, but Helen DeWitt's writing here is sublime.....
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not starring Tom Cruise, 17 Mar 2004
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Hardcover)
This is one of the most intellegent, original books I've read. It will make you want to read every single book in the library. It touches on every subject - language, science, art - through the eyes of a brilliant boy and his terrified mother, exploring the factors necessary for self development. I read and re-read it, and every time I find another reason to love it. You will cry, and laugh, and most of all, you will learn.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've read in years, 5 Dec 2000
By 
S. B. Kelly (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Hardcover)
This is the best book I've read in years. Many new authors are described as having an original voice but, finally, it's true. Dewitt's tale of an obsessive single mother is hilarious and, although not much happens, totally gripping. The prose is compulsive, almost hypnotic. Buy it and marvel.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning., 27 Oct 2003
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Hardcover)
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 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.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful novel left me breathless, 11 Oct 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Last Samurai (Hardcover)
Like the single mother heroine of this novel, I'm an American in London raising a small child. What an inspiration to read this challenging and hilarious book in which the beleaguered mother tries to properly educate and influence her young son in the absence of worthy role models. I waded through the Greek and Japanese thinking, hey, maybe I should try introducing this stuff to my two year old (DeWitt's got a point there), or maybe try learning it myself. It was exciting to read. And unlike some novels that dangle a little Latin in front of you without benefit of translation on the assumption that if you don't know it you won't admit it, this book never leaves you out in the cold. It draws you in to its wonderful multiple worlds. The boy simply longs for a father to take him on an adventure--and, with samurai bravura, he is suddenly crossing the frozen tundra on a dog sled, playing chess with a prison guard, discovering a fabled silent tribe, impersonating foreign diplomats, and expertly eating only the edible bugs. The stories are breathtaking and ingenious. I loved every fluid moment. But especially, I loved the mother--her brilliance, her despair, her doggedness, her past. Thanks Ms. DeWitt for creating such an inspiring female character. It made me long to leave the circle line to raft across the Pacific.
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The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt (Paperback - 4 Oct 2001)
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