The Last Samurai (No, Not That One)-A Review

The Last SamuraiThe Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me start off by saying, because I’ll be posting this to my blog, that this book has nothing to do with the film starring Tom Cruise. The film was fine, I don’t have anything against it, but the stories could not be more different, except that they both have to do with Samurai, in one way or another.

Helen DeWitt put everything into this book. That’s not to say she tried to cram the whole world into 500 pages, it’s just to say that she put herself into this book. All of it. I have to believe that. The scope of it, the emotion, the stories–it must have taken everything she had.

It’s a wonderful book.

It’s a wonderful book about a boy and his mother and about genius and heroism and goodness. There’s also a fair amount of stuff in there about various languages and some mathematics and music, and some of it’s quite technical. But this should not dissuade you from reading it! You do not need to understand irregular Arabic verb forms to be utterly taken in by the tale she’s telling. And it’s completely satisfying.

A final word of advice if you have the book on your shelf and are thinking about cracking it open: after about 50 pages, you will want to know what else DeWitt has written, and you will Google her name and discover, to your dismay, that she has written only one other book and that this book is only available as an ebook on her website. Then you will find some interviews with her, or you will find her blog, and you will discover that she has not been treated kindly by the publishing biz. Don’t read these things. For weeks after I read that stuff, all I could hear in my head when I opened to my bookmark was the voice of the writer, Helen DeWitt, who has been beaten up by a business gone crazy in its death throes, and not the voice of her narrator.

Don’t let this happen to you. Read the book in full. Let it take you in. Then write a nice review of it, or buy it for a friend who likes a good story, or write a glowing letter to Ms. DeWitt thanking her for writing it.

It’s that good.

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