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.