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The Last Samurai Paperback – April 3, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Miramax; Reprint edition (April 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780786887002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786887002
  • ASIN: 0786887001
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Helen DeWitt's extraordinary debut, The Last Samurai, centers on the relationship between Sibylla, a single mother of precocious and rigorous intelligence, and her son, who, owing to his mother's singular attitude to education, develops into a prodigy of learning. Ludo reads Homer in the original Greek at 4 before moving on to Hebrew, Japanese, Old Norse, and Inuit; studying advanced mathematical techniques (Fourier analysis and Laplace transformations); and, as the title hints, endlessly watching and analyzing Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, The Seven Samurai. But the one question that eludes an answer is that of the name of his father: Sibylla believes the film obliquely provides the male role models that Ludo's genetic father cannot, and refuses to be drawn on the question of paternal identity. The child thinks differently, however, and eventually sets out on a search, one that leads him beyond the certainties of acquired knowledge into the complex and messy world of adults.

The novel draws on themes topical and perennial--the hothousing of children, the familiar literary trope of the quest for the (absent) father--and as such, divides itself into two halves: the first describes Ludo's education, the second follows him 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 world of emotion, human ambitions, and their attendant frustrations and failures.

The Last Samurai is about the pleasure of ideas, the rich varieties of human thought, the possibilities that life offers us, and, ultimately, the balance between the structures we make of the world and the chaos that it proffers in return. Stylistically, the novel mirrors this ambivalence: DeWitt's remarkable prose follows the shifts and breaks of human consciousness and memory, capturing the intrusions of unspoken thought that punctuate conversation while providing tantalizing disquisitions on, for example, Japanese grammar or the physics of aerodynamics. It is remarkable, profound, and often very funny. Arigato DeWitt-sensei. --Burhan Tufail --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

DeWitt's ambitious, colossal debut novel tells the story of a young genius, his worldly alienation and his eccentric mother, Sibylla Newman, an American living in London after dropping out of Oxford. Her son, Ludovic (Ludo), the product of a one-night stand, could read English, French and Greek by the age of four. His incredible intellectual ability is matched only by his insatiable curiosity, and Sibylla attempts to guide her son's education while scraping by on typing jobs. To avoid the cold, they ride the Underground on the Circle Line train daily, traveling around London as Ludo reads the Odyssey, learns Japanese and masters mathematics and science. Sybilla uses her favorite film, Akira Kurosawa's classic Seven Samurai, as a makeshift guide for her son's moral development. As Ludo matures and takes over the story's narration, Sibylla is revealed as less than forthcoming on certain topics, most importantly the identity of Ludo's father. Knowing only that his male parent is a travel writer, Ludo searches through volumes of adventure stories, but he is unsuccessful until he happens upon a folder containing his father's name hidden in a sealed envelope. He arranges to meet the man, pretending to be a fan. The funny, bittersweet encounter ends with a gravely disappointed Ludo, unable to confront his father with his identity. Afterward, the sad 11-year-old resumes his search for his ideal parent figure. Using a test modeled after a scene in Seven Samurai, he seeks out five different men, claiming he is the son of each. While energetic and relentlessly unpredictable, the novel often becomes belabored with its own inventiveness, but the bizarre relationship between Sibylla and Ludo maintains its resonant, rich centrality, giving the book true emotional cohesion. Foreign rights sold in Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This was one of the few books I have read three times in a row.
Akemi
Beneath all the bravado intellectualism, the core of this novel may well be a simple, ageless, and very human story indeed: a boy's coming of age.
Devoted Opera Fan
DeWitt's writing style was unique, a true stream-of-consciousness narrative that let the reader enter the minds of Ludo and Sibylla.
Charles E. Stevens

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 91 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is joyful and thrilling. The intimate and familiar story of a single mother struggling to raise a young son is made original and even epic by the sheer elasticity and power of author Helen DeWitt's imagination. Mother and Son, Sybilla and Ludo, both possessed of gifted and versatile minds, are obsessed with the Kurosawa classic, The Seven Samurai (a film I always felt forced to appreciate until I read this book). Syb uses the film to provide the male role models the boy doesn't have in his life, and Ludo uses it to develop his own version of a Samurai test with which he plans to find the best father possible for himself. Armed with the refrain that 'a good samurai will parry the blow' he sets out to test and win over men of samurai mettle who might recognize his merits. The true joy of reading the book comes in the fact that even though mother and son are both geniuses, multi lingual and well versed in history, literature, math and sciences, thier pursuits in learning and discovery seem exciting and comprehensible. What at first description might sound intellectually intimidating (Ancient Greek, Old Norse, Ptolemaic Alexandria, Fourier Analysis and a blow by blow with variations on the theme of the Rosetta Stone) are made accessible and often hilarious by the dazzling ingenuity and finesse of the wonderful Dewitt. Reading it made me feel I had suddenly come across a vast unrealized potential in myself for the power of creative thought and the ability to comprehend complex ideas. All this disguised in a book of fabulous adventure and tremendous longing.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I'd heard a lot about DeWitt's erudition before this book came out and was expecting something a little more bracing. This book is a joyful lark! I laughed heartily from page one. It is obvioulsy the work (judging from DeWitt's bio on the cover flap) of someone who, when freed from the requirements of academic writing, took real pleasure in research and writing and trying to convey her joys to the world at large for their own sake. While someone who is familiar with Icelandic sagas or the history of Alexandria, or who has studied classics like Dewitt might enjoy the references, it is those of us who barely made it through highschool french who will really get the most enjoyment out of discovering the Japanese language alongside Ludo, the young protagonist, or worrying through obscure german academic texts with his dissappointed mother. All this gives the impression that the book is a very readable language textbook, which couldn't be more misleading. Dewitt has the ability to transport you instantly across the world in vivid little stories about the characters that Ludo and his mother draw into the book. I found myself looking back to discover that the journey I had just taken across the central asian desert to visit unknown tribes turned out to be only a few pages long. Some of these little episodes have enough material for ten novels. Hurray for Helen Dewitt!
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 24, 2000
Format: 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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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a prodigy. His musical genius was recognized at the age of three. His father oversaw his musical education and supported him throughout his early life. Certainly, Mozart's life would have been dramatically different without the guiding hand of his father.
In Helen Dewitt's dazzling novel, The Last Samurai, four-year-old Ludo (the name is Latin for "play, mock") is a prodigy of a different sort. He excels not exclusively in one field, but in whatever he chooses to pursue. By the age of six, Ludo had read the Odyssey and Iliad in Greek, Kalilah wa Dimnah in Arabic, the Book of Jonah in Hebrew, and countless novels in English. He had long been finished with algebra. Learning Japanese became an easy hurdle. Ms. Dewitt brings to life a remarkable child who astounds nearly everyone he meets with his display of intellect at such a young age.
But Ludo wanted something that every other child had: a father. Ludo's mother, the complex but likeable Sibylla, tried to augment the child's lack of male role models by frequently watching Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece Seven Samurai. Nevertheless, Ludo longed for a father.
At the age of eleven, Ludo finally discovered his father's identity and went to see him, but found him lacking. He then interviewed five different men, with the hope of finding just the right person to become his surrogate father. The six men (his father and the five others) each had to pass a unique test like the samurai in Kurosawa's movie. All six failed. Ms. Dewitt's genius as a storyteller is evident in her ability to avoid a hackneyed plot of single mother/genius son by incorporating Seven Samurai into the narrative, both through quotes from the movie and through the use of similar events.
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