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.
[…] a Molotov cocktail of a book, an incendiary experience for readers that breaks through the mundanity of life, work, and love to achieve greatness.
—Off the Shelf
DeWitt’s fiction is lethal, limitless, and economical. She has more fun on the page than most.
A rare work of knowledge porn that actually conveys knowledge.
An elegant—and newly useful—meditation…As much as The Last Samurai is a novel about a mother’s struggle to raise a son on her own, it is also a novel about art—not making art, but consuming it and engaging with it in a million informal, inappropriate, but profoundly meaningful ways.
DeWitt pushes against the limitations of the novel as a form; reading her, one wants to push against the limitations of one’s own brain.
—The Paris Review
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)
The Last Samurai is an original work of brilliance about, in part, the limits of brilliance.
A triumph—a genuinely new story, a genuinely new form.