The Last Samurai (Paperback)

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The Last Samurai By Helen DeWitt Cover Image
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Staff Reviews

Let's face it, there just isn't enough space here to list the many reasons for you to pick this book up immediately. DeWitt's first novel follows a brilliant single mother's attempt at balancing a floundering academic career with raising her son, a child prodigy who goes through libraries of books within days. His eventual quest to find a father long out of the picture provides the fulcrum to this one of-a-kind story. You want prose that impresses with each page? Characters too interesting to read about once? IQ-raising explorations of language, music and history? Oh and you want to learn Japanese & Greek in the process? Then why are you still reading this? Pick it up already.

— Musa

I'm not the first bookseller here to staff pick this book, and with good reason. While this is DeWitt's first book to be published, it is the 50th manuscript she's written, and her knowledge of form shows. The Last Samurai is immediately intricate, cerebral, unapologetically encyclopedic. As it unfolds, it reveals itself to be an incredibly humanizing exploration of the limits of intelligence, and a tender, heartbreaking portrayal of the unavoidably irrational natures of love, family and desire. The super brilliant mother and son duo at its center, and the mysterious absent father in its periphery, keep the book intimately personal and universal. But the way the book unfolds and explores these relationships is what makes it so beautiful and singular. Also it has nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie at all.

— Gleb


Called “remarkable” (The Wall Street Journal) and “an ambitious, colossal debut novel” (Publishers Weekly), Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai is back in print at last

Helen DeWitt’s 2000 debut, The Last Samurai, was “destined to become a cult classic” (Miramax). The enterprising publisher sold the rights in twenty countries, so “Why not just, ‘destined to become a classic?’” (Garth Risk Hallberg) And why must cultists tell the uninitiated it has nothing to do with Tom Cruise?

Sibylla, an American-at-Oxford turned loose on London, finds herself trapped as a single mother after a misguided one-night stand. High-minded principles of child-rearing work disastrously well. J. S. Mill (taught Greek at three) and Yo Yo Ma (Bach at two) claimed the methods would work with any child; when these succeed with the boy Ludo, he causes havoc at school and is home again in a month. (Is he a prodigy, a genius? Readers looking over Ludo’s shoulder find themselves easily reading Greek and more.) Lacking male role models for a fatherless boy, Sibylla turns to endless replays of Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. But Ludo is obsessed with the one thing he wants and doesn’t know: his father’s name. At eleven, inspired by his own take on the classic film, he sets out on a secret quest for the father he never knew. He’ll be punched, sliced, and threatened with retribution. He may not live to see twelve. Or he may find a real samurai and save a mother who thinks boredom a fate worse than death.

About the Author

Helen DeWitt was born in a suburb of Washington, DC. Daughter of American diplomats, she grew up mainly in Latin America, living in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. She went to Oxford to study classics for a BA and D.Phil. She left academia to try to write a novel, moving eventually to London and acquiring UK citizenship. She had some 100 fragments of novels when she began work in 1995 on the novel that was published as The Last Samurai in 2000. The book caused a sensation at the Frankfurt Bookfair 1999, going on to be translated in 20 languages (DeWitt reads some 15 languages to various degrees of fluency). On the reissue of The Last Samurai by New Directions in 2016 it was hailed by Vulture Magazine as The Best Book of the Century. She is also the author of Lightning Rods, a Mel Brooksian satire on sexual harassment, and Some Trick, a collection of stories. She has been based in Berlin since 2004, but also spends time at a cottage in the woods of Vermont improving her chainsaw skills.


Praise For…

[...] a Molotov cocktail of a book, an incendiary experience for readers
that breaks through the mundanity of life, work, and love to achieve
— Off the Shelf

A triumph—a genuinely new story, a genuinely new form.
— A. S. Byatt - The New Yorker

The Last Samurai is an original work of brilliance about, in part, the limits of brilliance.

— Time

The book has been a great source of motivation for me. I must outdo Ludo, because he is younger than I am but smarter than I am. My father says that this is ridiculous, as Ludo is a fictional character. But this is precisely my point: how can I let a character who isn’t even real outdo me?
— Daniel (age 14)
Product Details
ISBN: 9780811225502
ISBN-10: 081122550X
Publisher: New Directions
Publication Date: May 31st, 2016
Pages: 576
Language: English