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The Last Samurai

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  6,655 ratings  ·  886 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 September 20th 2000)
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Jonas you'll feel like you have watched it by the end of the book (in a good way)…moreyou'll feel like you have watched it by the end of the book (in a good way)(less)

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Average rating 4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,655 ratings  ·  886 reviews

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Lee Klein
Jun 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read, favorites
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
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american
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? She drives through her fictional life with a relentlessly hard beat of ‘this is it/me; deal with it/me’ with riffs and shouts from whatever’s around - bits of ancient language, unsuspecting academics, cultural connections no one else has ever clocked. She tolerates anything but boredom and whatever might get in betwee
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Last Samurai, Helen DeWitt

The Last Samurai (2000) was the first novel by American writer Helen DeWitt.

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

Sibylla, a single mother, brings Ludo up somewhat unusually; he starts reading at two, reading Homer in the original Greek at three, and goes on to Hebrew, Japanese, Old Norse, Inuit, and advanced mathematics.

To stand in for a male influence in his upbringing, Sibylla plays him Akira Kurosawa's S
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
Feb 05, 2016 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
Mar 03, 2018 rated it liked it
The Last Samurai is a book where you’re never quite sure where you’re going next and at what speed, you just realise it’s going to be unconventional. To make sure you remain connected to the short snappy pointed tone of the main characters the writing adopts a similar style.

Ludo is a 6-year-old language and literary genius and his mother Sibylla is also intellectually gifted. I mean seriously gifted, where they home-study mathematics, science, literature, and multiple languages inc
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Dec 05, 2014 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
Jul 24, 2015 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. Here are a few things:

I sometimes feel depressed too. 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 people to talk. So I often
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
Britta Böhler
Even though I didn't love everything in the book (I only skimmed the long quotes from obscure books or the passages written in Japanese and Islandic), but it still blew me away. ...more
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had planned to watch Seven Samurai before writing this review, because the novel leans so heavily on it, frequently interpolating the film’s dialogue, and drawing from its structure and themes. But finding the time for that has proved difficult. And while I think the film is important for a full appreciation of The Last Samurai, the novel does provide enough context for it to be understood alone.

The novel itself is an original, highly innovative work, making bold and unexpected decisions in te
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
Roman Clodia
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first sight this is dazzlingly erudite but almost immediately DeWitt undercuts the intellectualism: with wit, with acuity, she navigates a story which both valorises knowledge and intellectual pursuits but also recognises the limitations of pure mind when it comes to living what philosophers term 'a good life'.

This is a book which zooms between disciplines: music, maths, literature, language all play important parts - and we should note the character's names: Sybilla and Ludo, because there'
Apr 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
[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
Sentimental Surrealist
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 17, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Katie Long
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the first half of this book, I was in love and ready to marry it, but at about the halfway point when there is a shift of perspective from mother to son, I decided we were better as just good friends. The gorgeous writing never falters, but the plot eventually becomes a bit repetitive. At times the fitting of the narrative into the structure that Dewitt has created can feel forced. It's as if the structure gets in the way of the narrative. That is all sounding more negative than I mean to, s ...more
Dec 11, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rick Harsch
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A novel about humor and brains and alternative viewpoints...constantly surprising, always entertaining. What it all adds up to? Probably something besides whatever pithies are attached to the book. Definitely worth reading.
Ecem Yücel
Sep 01, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 Stars.

I liked reading this one, it reminded me Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Yet, Foer's book was much better and made much more sense than this one. The Last Samurai starts off in a great way, I especially liked the Japanese parts, since I'm a learner of Japanese and all. However, the second part of the book has many ramblings that don't make any sense sometimes. It's like it could be a great book, yet it lost something along the way and became more of a medio
Bert Hirsch
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

Hands down this is one of the best novels I have read in several years. Helen DeWitt has written a tour de force, a brilliant, funny, sometimes tragic tale about a single mother and her precocious young son , Ludo, whom she also endearingly calls The Phenomenon.

The Last Samurai follows the education and adventures of Ludo. His mother Sibylla meagerly supports the both, typing out copy for popular hobby magazines of mostly obscure pursuits. Home schooled, modeled a
Dec 17, 2012 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
May 13, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m going to sit on this one for a bit. 5 stars not without a few reservations (especially the afterword) but this is a remarkable book.
Simon Robs
Oct 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
"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 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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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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