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The Last Samurai


I adored this crazy, fabulous, lovable book…This really does deserve to be a modern classic.

— The Pool


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 bold, brilliant book…original both in content and form… DeWitt’s zeal cannot fail to enchant.

— The Guardian

Fiercely intelligent, very funny and unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

— Mark Haddon

[…] 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.

— The Rumpus

A rare work of knowledge porn that actually conveys knowledge.

— The Millions

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.

— Slate

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.

— A. S. Byatt, The New Yorker


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