The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai

by Helen DeWitt

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.

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 endly 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.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 4.18
  • Pages: 530
  • Publish Date: April 3rd 2002 by Miramax Books
  • Isbn10: 0786887001
  • Isbn13: 9780786887002

What People Think about "The Last Samurai"

Especially recommended to cold cerebral dudes with liberal arts degrees in English Lit who rarely read fiction by living women. Just re-read after 10 years after really enjoying DeWitt's very different second novel, Lightning Rods, which just came out. The second half of the book is narrated by Ludo, age 11, who hunts down seven potential fathers, all of them geniuses/ heroes, some more vividly described by the author than others, but all of them making the end sadder and more "poignant" than the opening. On second read, I thought some of the potential fathers were rushed a little bit, that the last 100 pages got a bit thin at times, but not enough to undermine my love. Also re-watched all 200 minutes of "The Seven Samurai" last night after finishing the novel.

Finding exactly the right book at exactly the right time doesnt happen very often. This one found its way to me through the oddest of circumstancesvia Lee (his review), clumsy fingers, and time at the deathbed of my motherit is what it is. I follow Lees reviews and checked out the one for The Last Samurai when it hit my updates. Any time someone whose reviews I follow says one of my fave books I pay attention. By the time the book arrived, my mother had been hospitalized, lost consciousness, and the word immanent was being heard frequently.

High Intensity Motherhood Am I alone in thinking that Helen DeWitt writes like the Alabama 3 play their music - a sort of Country/Acid House fusion with a surprising British flavor? Shes too busy feeding the little tyro his daily doses of number theory and archaic Hebrew tense forms. The duet mind-melds like Spock: An idea has only to be something you have not thought of before to take over the mind. And ideas sure do, lots of em: How do proteins work?

Her mother was a musician repressed into accounting by her neurotic father who would not be satisfied even by genius. Instead, Sibylla plays the Kurosawa movie, Seven Samurai, as a surrogate for Ludo's father and as obsessive emotional distraction for himself. At this point, Ludo concludes that he must find his own father. Ludo's mother fades almost entirely from the picture as he searches for his new father. Experimental novels often shy away from plots and narratives, but there is still 'A Story' here, cloaked in the references to the Seven Samurai and the Odyssey. The story is then a series of emotional dialogues between a boy searching for a father and a father who is human and therefore deficient in some way. It is an intellectual investigation and a psychological journey, one which retells the old story of mother, father, and son through a new vessel, on to new shores.

Imagine if I became obsessed with this book and reread it as often as the narrators watch Kurosawas Seven Samurai?

The Last Samurai is about the relationship between a young boy, Ludo, and his mother, Sibylla.

Ludo is a 6-year-old language and literary genius and his mother Sibylla is also intellectually gifted. Over the next 6 years, Ludo decides to use a scene from the 7 Samurai film as a blueprint to map out, and identify 7 potential father figures, and determine which it is the one who can parry the blow, just like a real Samurai could do. The last 40% of the book is mainly told through the eyes of Ludo and his quest to find his father. At times I got frustrated with the book as it seemed to ramble and provide detail I wasnt interested in, and I didnt feel added to the story.

in this case, and for no special reason, Id really like to write the kind of thing which is frequently called a real review. But just in case Im going to start reviewing The Last Samurai right now while Ive still got a third of the novel to read, remaining. So one thing again that occurs to me is that Ive read a lot of stuff for the first time. I mean, Ive read a lot of authors for the first time. Look, theres a number of big books Ive been trying to finally getting around to knock off this time of year and DeWitts is the third following the DeLillo and the Bolaño. But it is what youd call a fast read (dont you dare say precocious, not even one more time!!). As pointed out, and really this kind of thing should count as one of those ubiquitous critiques/complaints, the obverse of the needs to loose about 500 pages critique/complaint, The Last Samurai has a lot of blank pages among its 530 pages. I mean a lot of blank pages. A lot of the white space serves to demarcate various chapters and sections and parts ; the relations among which Ive not parsed. But the thing is that each of those part/title/etc dividers represents on average approximately three pages of blank space. Well estimate about/approximately (product of three and forty) 120 pages of white with and without part/chapter/section titles (however you call these things). Sounds like a lot, but Im not counting the white space produced by the occasional subsection dividers (ie, ) which produce a much greater quantity of white space than is the case in the average book formatting strategy. Id knock on the door of one of these many local design schools and hire some fresh(faced) grad who wants to work for free (for no $$$$, really) to design a nice little thing which would include all of my most populairy reviews and Reviews (and Id throw in some stinkers cuz I just cant help it (nor do I ever think of my reader!)) and Id have this fresh(faced) design school grad make some really cool book=art out of it. Itd be so cool, such excellent book-art that you wouldnt even want to bother reading the words (youve already skimd them on=line already anyway so whats the point?) but youd luxuriate in the inexpressively awesome nature of this book=art. Wed get one of these old fashion one-page-at-a-time handcrank type old=school printers, you know, the printing equivalent of a straight-razor, the kind of thing which increases your risk of exsanguination by a factor of seventeen, and wed pick up a guy from the Home Depot parking lot to do all the cranking and wed print off those pages one at a time and thered be a lot of pages because Ive written (or Written) something like 561 reviews (for Reviews) plus like 334 ratings (those have really gotten crusty lately!) and so wed have a lot to select from and wed probably include more than we should. At any rate, (let me know if you see some grammatical difficulties with these sentences) wed print those pages and then get them to some like really seriously artful bookbinder guy, the kind of guy like that guy who lives in the basement of that house occupied by that one famous philosophy in Cambridge you met once when you took that huge Oxford Greek dictionary to this guy to get the binding fixed, youd take it to one of these Artful=Binders who have been to Book Making (non-gambling) type schools and youd have this guy hand bind these things in like calf and other expensive stuff and probably sewn in silk if silk is good thing for binding books. Wed have maybe ten questions and youd answer some with a Yes or a No or some non-excluded middle term and some youd answer by circling any one numeral along a range ranging from one to ten. Im think of the kind of thing youd get in the ED (used to be known as the ER and there was even a TV show with that title which at first I pronounced like the german word it looked like to me) where theyd say like How much pain are you in? So maybe perhaps wed ask something like On a scale of one to ten, one being something like utter=meh and ten being like Best Thing After Finnegans Wake, how Great, how Fantastic would you say this review written this day the Eighth of December in the year of 2014 by Nathan N.R. Gaddis of Helen DeWitts massively awesome 2000 novel, The Last Samurai (thats a big N.R. to that Cruise movie of like title) is? Wheres that thing on my word processing dealie that tells me how many characters (including spaces) Ive used? Ive got word count down here (2338 it says) but Id like to count those characters in anticipation of what the gr Review Box is going to say. Right now theyre playing a The Roxy Theatre (1973) which is really about the best era of Zappadom, partly because you see hes just so damn happy playing with a great fucking band and the musics cool and he actually enjoys the audience and all this kind of stuff (I like the 88 tour stuff too). At any rate, the stats thing which is included with my word processor now says Characters: 13,172. The stats thing says Characters: 13,279. So when I hit 9 the whole thing changed to 13,280 so you see what I mean when I say its hard to type because it changes as I type it. Youll find Dont Eat The Yellow Snow on the Apostrophe() album which also contains a funny song about a poodle called Stink-Foot or something like that, but the famous Poodle Lecture is pretty great. h) no i) yes j) maybe k) lets wait and see l) no, Ive got more important things to do like ask aidan for more book=recs m) this whole review is a wreck n) pomo is dead! and then well do one in Greek t) one in Hebrew u) one auf Deutsch v) one in Arabic w) one in Chinese x) one in Japanese as soon as you read all those books in that one photograph plus all the other books written by each of those approximately twelve authors y) I dont know! Yes, thank you for taking my call, big fan, long time listener, first time caller and all that etc etc etc ;; but what Id really like to know and Im sure just about everyone else reading this thing would like to know is, Who are you making fun of? Id also like to ask, sort of a two=parter, Dont you have anything better to do? Yes. btw, if you see things like youre instead of where your should be or like if you see its where an its should be its not because I cant or dont differentiate between the two very different words but its because everything thats in my brain that finds its way onto this white splotch in cyber=space is mediated through my CANTANKEROUS KEYBOARD and the situation is not improved in that sometimes my fingers have a different opinion than my brain and perform what might only be characterized as grammatical sabotage. Things like that will perpetually embarrass, especially if your make you living telling other people how illiterate they are just because they have to work with a CANTANKEROUS KEYBOARD. So, and I know this is sort of a hollow gesture given the structure of this Review Box, but Id like to provide you, My Treasured Review Reader, with a little space of your own so that your voice too might be heard. Here it is (just go wild!!!) :: ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ That doesnt feel like a lot, but please feel free to expand on the other side of this Review, or maybe down below in the conversational Thread where we can get in more than the mere 20=Grand characters allowed up here. And Id rather (I mean I feel like Ive been talking and talking and its time for someone else maybe to get a word in edgewise) maybe hand the mike over to other people in our reading audience today and see what they have to say about your question. I mean, I think its a serious question and Id really like to hear what other people might have to say.

I think many reviewers are afraid of appearing shallow by stating the truth: THIS BOOK IS SIMPLY AWFUL. Its probably been a decade since I havent finished a book I think it was Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.

Here are a few things: I sometimes feel depressed too. In my line of work, I often come across people who feel depressed. Sometimes people just simply need to know that someone is listening. But I keep thinking, maybe I'll hit the right combination. That if you're NOT depressed, maybe that's when there's something wrong. I admit, I used to think I was quite clever. And it's been quite a relief over the years to finally admit that I'm of average intelligence, at best, with maybe a longer than average attention span (though, it is waning, oh lord is it waning). In sum, I liked the ideas of the book, but the brandishing of the encyclopaediac felt too much like a Wikipedia rabbit-hole.

DeWitt is best known for her acclaimed debut novel, The Last Samurai. DeWitt lives in Berlin where she has recently finished a second novel, Your Name Here, in collaboration with the Australian journalist Ilya Gridneff.