6 May 2011

Review: "The Last Samurai"

This is one of those books that have been on my TBR list literally forever. Or at least since it came out about ten years ago.... I think we can agree than ten years is a looooong time on a TBR list? :-) However, this one was worth the wait! Actually I am glad I didn't read it ten years ago - would probably not have gotten as much out of it as I did now.
"The Last Samurai" by Helen Dewitt is a really different book but different in a good way, a fantastic way. It must have taken forever to write it but it is a modern stunner.
The book has two narrators and two main persons, Ludo the child wonder and his mother Sibylla. Sibylla comes from a family of academic disappointments. Intellektual, intelligent people who never managed to use their intellects as they dreamt of. Sibylla is a language-nerd who will swallow page after page about cultures and languages - the more obscure the better - and she makes a living typing odd magazines into an internet database. Ludo is her son - he has a father but Sibylla doesn't want him to know about his father...
Ludo is a child prodigy. A wonder boy who learns Hebrew and Arabic by himself while other kids of his age watch Sesame Street... He is nothing like an average child but somewhat like a Mozart maybe... And poor Sibylla has to try to keep him occupied and raise him while debating with herself if satisfying his constant need for more knowledge will hurt him. How do you as a mother tackle a child that is unable to play with other kids or go to school? Who teaches himself japanese and dreams about the perfect father?
Sibylla, forever without money, takes him on the Circle Line, the metro ring in London, so that at least he can keep warm while reading and studying and makes him watch "The Seven Samurais" over and over to give him male role models.

I loved the plot and the two characters. The hapless Sibylla who can hardly take care of herself not to mention a small wonder boy and who values books over anything else including food, is endearing! And Ludo, the clever little fellow who really really wants a father figure to look up to, is cute. The isolation that his intellect leads to is difficult to read about even though he doesn't completely understands it himself and his hunt for a dad is an emotional journey both for Ludo and for the reader.

If you like books with depth that encourages intellectual mind games and features great charaters, then you should definitely try "The Last Samurai".


  1. Well done for getting around to it :)
    I have some books that have been on my TBR list for about ten years too, it's not good!

  2. I know... it really shouldn't happen but then again it seems to happen all the time to me :-)