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The Last Samurai

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  2,460 ratings  ·  344 reviews
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; studyi ...more
Paperback, 530 pages
Published April 3rd 2002 by Miramax Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mike Puma

Six stars! Seven stars! Hell, a herd of stars. We’re givin’ em away (liberated and reworked from The Tubes’ White Punks on Dope).

Finding exactly the right book at exactly the right time doesn’t happen very often. Finding exactly the right book at all doesn’t happen often enough. This one found its way to me through the oddest of circumstances—via Lee (his review), clumsy fingers, and time at the deathbed of my mother—it is what it is.

I follow Lee’s reviews and checked out the one for The Last Sa

...more
Lee
Especially recommended to cold cerebral dudes with liberal arts degrees in English Lit who rarely read fiction by living women. Would also recommend it to those who loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog but thought it might have been a bit twee.

Just re-read after 10 years after really enjoying DeWitt's very different second novel, Lightning Rods, which just came out. In the past decade I've crammed in a few hundred novels, a few hundred pages of my own writing, and an MFA etc. And it's still one of
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Hadrian
The Last Samurai is a Babel of a book, a clamor of languages and sounds and symbols. Yet it speaks like the Christian story of the Apostles at Pentecost with tongues of fire over them and and they speak all the languages of the world to each other with equal understanding.

The story begins with a mother, Sibylla. She lives a life burdened with high expectations and doubly burdened when she cannot reach up to them. Her father was an atheist who went to a ninth-rate seminary to please his father a
...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Dec 09, 2014 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cf Lee's review....
Recommended to Nathan "N.R." by: aidan w-m
in this case, and for no special reason, I’d really like to write the kind of thing which is frequently called a real review. For this book, The Last Samurai. Rather than be :; a) clever (succeed or fail, no matter) b) auto-bio-graphical (in however obtuse a manner) c) pretentiously name=dropping or d) just generally tapping dancing and bowing. I doubt it’ll happen. But just in case I’m going to start reviewing The Last Samurai right now while I’ve still got a third of the novel to read, remaini ...more
Fionnuala
Imagine the written version of an orchestral suite, different instruments taking their turns cutting in and out, challenging, responding, developing themes, repeating themes, breaking off for a little bit of opera here, a little pas-de-deux there with a couple of guest solos thrown in, while nevertheless returning continually to the main theme and finally leading into a very fitting coda. That’s what reading this book was like for me.

Books like The Last Samurai don’t come my way very often whic
...more
Matt
[no spoilers]

One of my favorite books ever. I don't know is how time will affect my opinion of it, but I think it could last.

It's a novel about the normal and the eccentric, about learning, about languages, music, art, and Kurosawa. It's about the shape of brilliance. It doesn't sacrifice philosophy or intellectualism for narrative power or vice versa. Each smaller narrative wound into the whole is like story-candy. There is nothing to dislike: the style, the form, the content, the mood, the cha
...more
Sentimental Surrealist
I had this at a four for a while, but I've found my thoughts wandering over to certain scenes quite frequently in the two or so months since I've read it, so I think an extra star is due.

It's easy to get off of "death of this-or-that" re fiction, or really any art form, because art of course moves quickly. After writing that screed I just wrote about Palahniuk, I for a moment felt disillusioned with the state of the contemporary novel. It was my belief that, because of the immense acclaim the E
...more
Jimmy
Kitano Takeshi's recent film, Achilles and the Tortoise (Akiresu to Kame) manipulates Zeno's paradox as moral allegory in order to make a point about the impossible progess of artistic creation in a linear, rational way. In other words, Machisu's character - in early childhood portrayed as a spoiled, overprivileged brat who's artistic inclinations are encouraged to an almost absurd degree - eventually comes to believe that by merely mimicking artistic styles of past masters he can attain artisti ...more
Rob
Oct 30, 2008 Rob rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who like DFW, gaddis, pynchon, and borges
Shelves: fiction
a great book. or, at least the first 400 pages were amazingly wonderfully perfect, and the last 100 pages were good enough. but endings always suck ass, so five stars anyway.

plus, it's the first fiction by a woman since ayn rand that i loved (don't hold that against me. it's like mandatory for nerdy teenage boys, isn't it?). that's a 14-year drought! and lord knows i tried.

i don't understand why some novels about ordinary people struggling with ordinary crap are considered worthwhile. what do i
...more
Erik
Not a 3 star book, but a 1 star book and a 5 star book.

1 star because her prose is clunky ("He said:... I said:... He said:...") and banal ("The wind is howling. A cold rain is falling.") Because her experiments with form are juvenile and obnoxious. Above all, because it's the type of book that wants to entrench itself against criticism (well of course the prose and form are that way because that's the type of people these characters are!), rather than simply being a better book.

5 star because o
...more
Robert
DeWitt's debut novel demonstrates excellent stylistic control and adventurousness often using a lack of punctuation to create a breathless pace that when sustained for long periods tends to leave one breathless and nursing an incipient headache before

interruption by another character
reply
repeated interruption
reply

continuing where it left of in mid sentence or even mid wor

interruption
interruption
INTERRUPTION

d which can get a bit irritating actually. It is also funny particularly in the first half
...more
Rebecca
May 22, 2007 Rebecca rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people into murakami
If you like Haruki Murakami, you will like this book more. It's smarter, with the same pornographic interest in Information and obscurity. (Without all the weird adolescent girls there to lolita the author's life in fiction, cleanly.

I make it a rule not to read my book jackets until I'm done with the book. I only read books based on whim or recommendation and this one came from a dear friend and another mega-reader. Upon finishing the book, I read the jacket and there were two words that pretty
...more
Phil
This book is too short.

This book is too short, and I need to digest it.

This book is too short, and the time needed to digest it is long.

This short book is too good, and I will digest it a long time.

- - - - -

I suppose the most basic reason for liking this book is that it's full of intelligent heart and charm. I was consumed. The fictive became real, and I inhabited this world. It is not the arduous challenge it is made out to be. It is a pleasure to read and think about. Dewitt is marvelous--cry
...more
El
I borrowed this book from my brother an embarrassingly long time ago, and I'm not even sure now why I've waited so long to read this. It was one of those "Oh, I'll be able to breeze through this and return it to you so you can read it" kinds of things. Considering that was years ago, clearly I didn't do breeze through it or return it. Hey, it's part of my charm.

This wasn't an easy book to get into. I started it during a particularly busy time - moving to a new place, working longer hours at work
...more
Anittah
The Internet is seductive to me because it enables mediated relationships, mano not quite a mano since online all manos are filtered through interfaces which are driven by carefully designed databases whose fields are finite in a way that life is not. Which is to say: the Internet is a life bounded, and that interactions need not be copresent or synchronized results in ... a curated self, a grooming of one's chaos, an optimizing of life events so that they are framed in a square Instagram pic or ...more
Jpmist
Yikes, boy this book put me in my place pretty fast, I guess I'm not an intellectual as is Helen DeWitt who spent 10 years in academia and puts it all to as much use as possible in this book.

The book is simply incoherent and thereby unreadable as any type of narrative.

I went to the party. As so often it was much easier to come with the plan of leaving after 10 minutes than to leave after 10 minutes, for instead of making a polite excuse to leave after 10 minutes I found myself describing now t
...more
Jeff Jackson
4.5 stars. Many others have written passionately and eloquently about this wonderful book, so just a few quick observations:
-Contains one of the great piano recital scenes in all literature (alongside Berthe Trepat's concert in 'Hopscotch')
-Doesn't go as deep into Kurosawa's 'The Seven Samurai' as I expected, but still makes a great double bill after reading the novel
-Doesn't feel nearly as long as its daunting 500+ page count due to numerous short sections, blank spaces, and of course engaging
...more
Nicole
How is this book so good? I took my time reading it over the course of a week, and when I reached the ending I was incredibly disappointed, not because of how it ended but merely because it HAD to end. Amazing. The last third of it left an empty space where my heart used to be, but it was worth it. Although it did make me feel like I've been wasting my life and I'll never learn enough languages or read enough books.

(Haha, was reading it at coffee house one day, and no less than 4 people asked m
...more
Josh Friedlander
I had high expectations for this, and my disappointment was commensurately great. Think a highbrow Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It is funny and fast-paced, although with diminishing returns as it plods towards its end, with the wan energy of an author tired of her subject but committed to finishing the damn book. But what put me off were the constant moments of showboating - two Oxford degrees in Classics are constantly thrust in your face, with the author's use of Greek, Icelandic or Ar ...more
Diane
Helen Dewitt is clearly an extremely intelligent (genius?) woman, who wants to remind us of that fact with every sentence she writes. Although she has included a number of beautifully executed short stories in her novel...generally to introduce minor characters who are, nevertheless, central to the overall theme...her general writing style alternates between annoying sputters of words written in staccato--as if sent via telegram to the reader--and long, drawn out passages of sometimes obscure wr ...more
J. Dunn
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Max
Woah. Amazing book - flashy, but with a chewy center. The author spends most of the novel being so awesome it's almost over the top, but fortunately she never goes too far. The characters are all profound and compelling, and deeply tragic in their own individual ways; the themes of connection between geniuses, and of self-isolation, really hit home, and Ludo turned from an excellent plot device in the early chapters to an excellent character in the later ones. And, surprisingly, a blazingly fast ...more
Blair
This is a really impressive debut novel. In the foreword it mentions briefly how long the author has been working on this novel and it shows. The extensive research that must have gone into this novel is simply astounding. Helen Dewitt possesses an intellect and intelligence that may well rival the likes of Richard Powers or Neal Stephenson. The only problem with such a vast novel is that I think Dewitt may have burned herself out on the technical information contained in this novel, while missi ...more
Emily
Now that book club discussion has passed I feel I can write this review. Before I get started, let me say I think this book is the type you need to let sit for awhile before you decide exactly how you feel, and my ideas are still evolving. My overall impression was that the characters were well drawn. The ideas about intelligence -- and its horrid connection with loneliness/isolation -- were the kind of thing that would make any good reader salivate, and they were done quite well. I don't know G ...more
Kagama-the Literaturevixen
"It's tough to say who's more of a genius: young Ludo, the Odyssean hero of The Last Samurai; his teacher/mother, Sybilla; or his creator,first-time novelist Helen DeWitt:"

I cant say I agree with the enthusiastic blurb writer.
To me a genius is someone who writes a book that makes you feel something.

This wasnt it.At most it created a sense of boredom.

It was impossible to read this,it was like being hit by a text flood of pretentiousness.There was no thread to follow just statement after statement
...more
unnarrator
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Andrew
I hated The Last Samurai for all the reasons I hated Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Both star an annoying, intellectually precocious child (and this is coming from someone who was also an annoying, intellectually precocious child) who has father issues and has to go on a lame quest. Both steal liberally from significantly more creative writers, and DeWitt steals a whole subplot from Georges Perec. Both feature pointless pages filled with bullshit such as numbers and illegible script, compl ...more
veronica
I loved this book like crazy. It's a giddy, nerdy exploration of what happens when a dysfunctional - yet fun! -- family of brilliant savants cloister themselves with Japanese cinema for way too long. Take a depressive, braniac mother, her wunderkind son and a small army of possible (swashbuckling, adventurer, academic) fathers -- and you've got the story. It's a little more of a difficult read than what I've been reading lately, but I was really glad to have a little bit of a challenge for a cha ...more
Ryan
The Last Samurai (no, not the) centers on the adventures of a young prodigy brought up by a single mother. It recounts his search for his father, his mother's obsession with Kurosawa's film Seven Samurai, and some very amusing mishaps. For a po-mo novel with lots of linguistic tricks, it's really funny. The set-piece stories soar. When Ludo, the little protagonist, starts to gamble at the end, we learn that what makes a true samurai is neither physical nor mental prowess. It's something more tha ...more
Mary
Really excellent. A paean to autodidacticism, to the study of language, and to Kurosawa's masterpiece of modern cinema, The Seven Samurai. A reflection on human potential, on isolation, on the limits of intelligence. Smart, funny, a pleasure to read.

Entirely unrelated to that movie of the same name with Tom Cruise.
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110897
Helen DeWitt (born 1957 in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.) is a novelist.

DeWitt grew up primarily in South America (Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador), as her parents worked in the United States diplomatic service. After a year at Northfield Mount Hermon School and two short periods at Smith College, DeWitt studied classics at the University of Oxford, first at Lady Margare
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“There is a strange taboo in our society against ending something merely because it is not pleasant-- life, love, a conversation, you name it, the etiquette is that you must begin in ignorance & persevere in the face of knowledge, & though I naturally believe that this is profoundly wrong it's not nice to go around constantly offending people.” 19 likes
“There are people who think contraception is immoral because the object of copulation is procreation. In a similar way there are people who think the only reason to read a book is to write a book; people should call up books from the dust and the dark and write thousands of words to be sent down to the dust and the dark which can be called up so that other people can send further thousands of words to join them in the dust and the dark. Sometimes a book can be called from the dust and the dark to produce a book which can be bought in shops, and perhaps it is interesting, but the people who buy it and read it because it is interesting are not serious people, if they were serious they would not care about the interest they would be writing thousands of words to consign to the dust and the dark. There are people who think death a fate worse than boredom.” 18 likes
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