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The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

The Last Samurai (2000)

by Helen DeWitt

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1,172336,889 (4.24)51
  1. 10
    Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger (girlunderglass)
    girlunderglass: More young prodigies one falls head over heels with.
  2. 10
    Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson (camillahoel)
  3. 00
    An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Katya0133)
    Katya0133: another book about a child prodigy, very different in style, but I enjoyed both

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Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
I loved this even if I glossed over about two-thirds of it, which were quotes or paraphrases from other texts way over my head. I think I'd be a Sibylla type of parent (only not as smart) which probably wouldn't be the healthiest. This is precocious young boy story done right. I hated that other one by Franzen, with Oscar. But I like Ludo/Steven/David. Even though he's superhumanly smart, he's still a little boy. The ending made my heart ache. I have to go back and reread this again some time, because there are things I might have missed. But what I picked up from it, I enjoyed. I liked listening in on Sibylla's thought processes. I had to laugh at the rationale of leaving behind a few pages of annotated Greek instead of a simple morning-after "It was fun, had to go" note. There a subtle touches of humor when the two smart characters are being perfectly serious but the ideas they get are so... They have the oddest ways of thinking, it makes me envious. Learning the language of the Eskimos just in case your explorer father needs you on an expedition. Brushing up on science to prove your genes to an astronomer father. And Sibylla's test: When you see what's bad about these things (a piece of music, an article, a painting) you will be ready.

I like that I also learned how to read Greek a bit and how to add consecutive numbers using the Gauss trick, which is pretty neat. I purposely skipped over the Japanese characters part so as not to mess up the Chinese in my head, but if you wanted to you could have also picked up a few kanji from this book. And also the best way to commit suicide.

Will watch Seven Samurai and maybe even more will start to make sense. ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
THE LAST SAMURAI is a superb novel. The author, Helen DeWitt, makes two heroes: the headstrong, unafraid, charismatic Sibylla, and her genius son. The son is sometimes called Ludoviticus, somtimes Ludo, sometimes (for the sake of the Outside and Stupid World) called Steven or David. The story and point of view is divided into two complementary halves, one from Sibylla's point of view, and one from Ludo's. These voices are interspersed with other leitmotifs, such as the periodic and choral recitation of certain scenes from Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai".

It is easy to love these characters for their elaborate justifications of action, their taste for the beautiful and the challenging, and their wit.

The book is similar to John le Carre's best long novels, such as SIMLEY'S PEOPLE and THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, because it is at once a powerful page-turner and an erudite and well-argued treatise on human nature. ( )
  Smartjanitor | Jun 11, 2017 |
A fantastic, challenging and (perhaps) inspiring book, The Last Samurai was first published in 2001 and re-released this year by Dalkey. Sibylla, an American linguist in London, becomes pregnant after a tedious one-night stand. The resultant child, Ludo, shows all the signs of genius--he knows English and Greek by 3 years old, then picks up Hebrew, Arabic, etc., while advancing in his studies in aerodynamics, complex math, etc. His voraciousness taxes Sibylla, who can barely meet their bills with all of Ludo's questioning. She cares nothing for Ludo's father, but acknowledges that her son is in need of a father figure. To that end, they begin watching Kurosawa's Seven Samurais religiously. Eventually, Ludo (age 11), drawn by the mystery of his father's identity, goes in search of him, but instead finds himself interviewing a variety of better fits for the job of father/sensei/samurai guide.

This debut novel is edifying on many levels and darkly hilarious. ( )
  reganrule | Oct 20, 2016 |
A very intelligent boy looks for (or perhaps just wonders about) his father (or is he looking for a real-life hero he can emulate?) and meets some interesting characters along the way. With a single mother who does not treat her child as a child. The stories within the stories are what really make this book worthwhile! ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
I absolutely loved reading this book, even though at almost every point in it I realized that in order to appreciate it fully, I would need not just to reread it (probably many times), but to undertake a whole new education. It's surprising how little that sense of inadequacy and, occasionally, disorientation hampered the sheer pleasure of the reading.
  rmaitzen | Feb 7, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0786887001, Paperback)

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; studying advanced mathematical techniques (Fourier analysis and Laplace transformations); and, as the title hints, endlessly watching and analyzing Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, The Seven Samurai. But the one question that eludes an answer is that of the name of his father: Sibylla believes the film obliquely provides the male role models that Ludo's genetic father cannot, and refuses to be drawn on the question of paternal identity. The child thinks differently, however, and eventually sets out on a search, one that leads him beyond the certainties of acquired knowledge into the complex and messy world of adults.

The novel draws on themes topical and perennial--the hothousing of children, the familiar literary trope of the quest for the (absent) father--and as such, divides itself into two halves: the first describes Ludo's education, the second follows him in his search for his father and father figures. The first stresses a sacred, Apollonian pursuit of logic, precise (if wayward) erudition, and the erratic and endlessly fascinating architecture of languages, while the second moves this knowledge into the world of emotion, human ambitions, and their attendant frustrations and failures.

The Last Samurai is about the pleasure of ideas, the rich varieties of human thought, the possibilities that life offers us, and, ultimately, the balance between the structures we make of the world and the chaos that it proffers in return. Stylistically, the novel mirrors this ambivalence: DeWitt's remarkable prose follows the shifts and breaks of human consciousness and memory, capturing the intrusions of unspoken thought that punctuate conversation while providing tantalizing disquisitions on, for example, Japanese grammar or the physics of aerodynamics. It is remarkable, profound, and often very funny. Arigato DeWitt-sensei. --Burhan Tufail

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:54 -0400)

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Story of a single mother who comes from a long line of frustrated talents, & her son who just happens to be a child prodigy

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