Helen DeWitt - The Last Samurai

Helen DeWitt

The Last Samurai

Chatto & Windus 2000


Of my favorite books, this is one of my very favorites!

Sibylla is the genius mother of a genius child, Ludo, who starts learning Greek at age three. Then he moves on to Hebrew, Arabic and Japanese. Despite Sibylla’s intelligence, she has a low-paying job typing up back issues of magazines. The first part of the book is narrated by Sibylla and the second by Ludo as he starts school and then later begins to search for his father using only clues gleaned from his mom.


L is up to Odyssey 17. This is so bad for him. Hundreds of people saying wonderful marvellous far too young what a genius. It seems to me that it does not take miraculous intelligence to master the simple fact that ‘Ὀδυσσεύς’ is Odysseus, if you go on to master 5,000 similar facts you have only shown that you are a miracle of obstinacy.


It’s not just the story I liked, it’s the entire style of the book, and how the characters are constantly learning new things simply for the love of learning. I like that the Greek alphabet is in there, that Japanese characters are explained as is some peculiarity of Hebrew grammar, even if I speak none of those languages.

It’s an absolutely brilliant novel.

Akira Kurosawa’s movie Seven Samurai is watched incessantly by Sibylla and her son, hence the title.

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