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The Last Samurai

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  3,396 Ratings  ·  474 Reviews
Sibylla, a single mother from a long line of frustrated talents, has unusual ideas about child rearing. Yo Yo Ma started piano at the age of two; her son starts at three. J.S.Mill learned Greek at three; Ludo starts at four, reading Homer as they travel round and round the Circle Line. A fatherless boy needs male role models; so she plays the film of Seven Samurai as a run ...more
Paperback, 482 pages
Published October 4th 2001 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2000)
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Jun 11, 2007 Lee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, re-read
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
Mike Puma
Aug 12, 2011 Mike Puma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2011

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

Dec 07, 2014 Hadrian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, fiction
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
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
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Dec 05, 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
There is a LOT in this book. I don't know where to start.What Shall I do? I need to write a review, especially after the last quote I put up which is throughly insufficient to describe The Last Samurai. What shall I DO?

I'm stuck in a rut myself. I've been doing this for too long. I keep telling myself I should bite the bullet... and make a comeback. What's the use of spending my life in this room? What's the use of me sitting in front of this blank screen trying to achieve some undefined ideal
Feb 05, 2016 Skip rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Someone’s mother once said “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Well, I was never one to take unsolicited advice. I think many reviewers are afraid of appearing shallow by stating the truth: THIS BOOK IS SIMPLY AWFUL. I quit at page 196. It’s probably been a decade since I haven’t finished a book – I think it was Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. Actually, I am now remembering quitting From Hell by Alan Moore more recently.

Dewitt's book rambles on and on, ski
Jul 24, 2015 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's some heart in this novella after all. I'm skipping the pithy quotations to give it to you straight, no chaser. Here are a few things:

I sometimes feel depressed. Don't we all? In my line of work, I often come across people who feel depressed. And I think, well, I have no degree in psychology. I'm certainly not qualified. But then I also think, what the hell? Sometimes people just simply need to know that someone is listening. So I try to listen. But I'm not always so good at getting peopl
Apr 14, 2007 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[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
Dec 22, 2009 Jimmy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
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
Sep 17, 2008 Erik rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Simon Robs
Oct 14, 2016 Simon Robs rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"It is truly something and something which the something with the something of this something has something and something, so something also this something might something at first something." This first sentence from A. Roemer's "Aristarchs Athetesen in der Homerkritik" (Leipzig, 1912). So begins this delightful novel's character Sibylla's early soliloquy; then too: "I formed the impression that the sentence meant: It is truly a fallow and new field which the author has trod and ploughed throug ...more
Oct 03, 2008 Rob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 30, 2015 George rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-read
Beautiful in all sense of the word. There was a lot going on in this read. This is one not to miss. I was kind of sad for it to end. I think there is something in here for everyone. Watching the Kurosawa film is a must while reading.

"A good samurai will parry the blow..."

Edit 10/14/2015:

After thinking about it last night and this morning, this was such a magnificent novel. One major topic I can't stop thinking about is Ludo's growth throughout the novel. At first he is just a "robotic" child(did
Ronald Morton
This is the type of book I would have adored a decade ago, back when I was obsessing over Chabon and Foer and Eggers and the other at-the-time literary fiction elite that I was rapidly consuming. And it, today, was still an enjoyable read, but the overall impact is just a bit too precociously twee to really hit the pleasure centers of my brain that it once would have directly impacted. (view spoiler) ...more
Dec 11, 2008 Robert rated it liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
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
repeated interruption

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


d which can get a bit irritating actually. It is also funny particularly in the first half
Aug 27, 2015 Burhan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Uzun süredir bu kadar değişik bir kitap okumamıştım. Gerçekten müthiş bir deneyim oldu. Herkese tavsiye ederim. Konu ve tarz olarak Aşırı Gürültülü ve İnanılmaz Yakın'a çok benzediğini de söyleyebilirim.
May 13, 2007 Rebecca rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeff Jackson
Jul 29, 2011 Jeff Jackson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alexander Patino
Enjoyment level was a 4 but the content is so impressive it's bumped to a 5. Helen DeWitt is quite obviously a genius in her own right. I've definitely never read anything like this before and I have a feeling certain parts about this book will stay with me for a long time. Sometimes it can be a slog, a real chore, but you know that you're making your way through something really special.
Dec 17, 2012 El rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21st-centurylit
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
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
Oct 14, 2013 Anittah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 27, 2014 Diane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 29, 2011 Jpmist rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
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
Mar 30, 2013 Phil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Aug 08, 2016 Regan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic, challenging and (perhaps) inspiring book, The Last Samurai was first published in 2001 and re-released this year by Dalkey. Sibylla, an American linguist in London, becomes pregnant after a tedious one-night stand. The resultant child, Ludo, shows all the signs of genius--he knows English and Greek by 3 years old, then picks up Hebrew, Arabic, etc., while advancing in his studies in aerodynamics, complex math, etc. His voraciousness taxes Sibylla, who can barely meet their bills wit ...more
Jul 11, 2015 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is out of print. That's proof enough for me that God is either dead or has turned His back on mankind in disgust. Or that He's being held hostage somewhere, perhaps in a veritable cathedral of ice. Dear Lord-- blink twice if You need help.

Anyway: The Last Samurai. It's an imperfect, magnificent enigma. A page-turner with no plot, a structural experiment, hilarious, argumentative, digressive, satisfying without offering resolution. Do what you need to and get your hands on a copy.

Then f
B. Rule
Apr 07, 2017 B. Rule rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's sort of mind-blowing to me that this was DeWitt's first published novel. It's so incredibly self-assured, so dense, so unconventional in its approach, so well imagined, so emotionally satisfying, just so danged good. I'm hard pressed to think of another novel where you learn so much, so effortlessly along the way, and where the lessons are in furtherance of the plot and character development.

This is the story of the education of the boy-genius Ludo aka Stephen aka David, language and mathe
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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.” 28 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.” 20 likes
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