Helen DeWitt


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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 triumph - a genuinely new story, a genuinely new form...'
A S Byatt, The New Yorker

'...arguably the most exciting debut novel of the decade'
Sam Anderson, New York magazine

Disney and the Weinstein brothers had a difference of opinion which had nothing to do with a novel which had nothing to do with a film starring Tom Cruise. The Last Samurai was out of print for several years. It has now been reissued by New Directions. American and Canadian readers can, if they like, now buy it as an e-book, a format hitherto available only to those who could pass themselves off as residents of the UK.

Readers can order the book new from any of the following online retailers, or, of course, visit their local bookstore. (The local bookstore can surprise you in a way that an algorithm-driven online retailer can't. As René Char once said, comment vivre sans inconnu devant soi? How can you live with nothing unknown ahead?) Some readers - the sort of reader who bought 40 secondhand copies for friends and family in the out-of-print days - may still be drawn to the economies of the secondhand market; they can still, if they like, do what readers did in those days, and send the author a goodwill gesture via PayPal.

Samurai cover

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