Considered by some to be the greatest novel of the twenty-first century, Helen DeWitt's brilliant The Last Samurai tells the story of Sibylla, an Oxford-educated single mother raising a possible child prodigy, Ludo. Disappointed when he meets his biological father, the boy decides that he can do better. Inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, he embarks on a quixotic, moving quest to find a suitable father. The novel's cult-classic status did not come easy: it underwent a notoriously tortuous publication process and briefly went out of print.
Lee Konstantinou combines a riveting reading of The Last Samurai with a behind-the-scenes look at DeWitt's fraught experiences with corporate publishing. He shows how interpreting the ambition and richness of DeWitt's work in light of her struggles with literary institutions provides a potent social critique. The novel helps us think about our capacity for learning and creativity, revealing the constraints that capitalism and material deprivation impose on intellectual flourishing. Drawing on interviews with DeWitt and other key figures, Konstantinou explores the book's composition and its history with Talk Miramax Books, the publishing arm of Bob and Harvey Weinstein's media empire. He argues that The Last Samurai allegorizes its troubled relationship with the institutions and middlemen that ferried it into the world. What's ultimately at stake in Ludo's quest is not only who might make a good father but also how we might fulfill our potential in a world that often seems cruelly designed to thwart that very possibility.