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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary studies

The Last Samurai Reread

Lee Konstantinou

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To purchase The Last Samurai Reread

Title: The Last Samurai Reread
Author: Lee Konstantinou
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2022
Length: 102 pages
Availability: The Last Samurai Reread - US
The Last Samurai Reread - UK
The Last Samurai Reread - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Columbia University Press

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Our Assessment:

B : a useful companion volume to the novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 15/12/2022 David Trotter
TLS . 14/10/2022 H.c.White

  From the Reviews:
  • "Lee Konstantinou’s astute and sympathetic ‘rereading’ confirms this incremental canonisation. (...) But what’s ultimately most compelling about The Last Samurai is its nascent anti-evangelism. This is an encyclopedic novel that contrives to catch its own steroid-enhanced pursuit of ‘the world’s knowledge’ significantly off-balance, and so imagine a very different future for its hero and heroine. Konstantinou, so instructive on the scope and methods of that pursuit, rather underestimates the faith DeWitt is prepared to put in the gentle art of understatement." - David Trotter, London Review of Books

  • "Konstantinou interweaves the saga of the novel's trips in and out of print with his persuasive reading of it as an allegory for its own creation. His nimble reporting and analysis enrich our understanding of DeWitt's achievement while sketching a fascinating and cautionary portrait of the US publishing world." - Heather Cass White, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A volume in Columbia University Press' Rereadings-series, The Last Samurai Reread tackles Helen DeWitt's 2000 novel, The Last Samurai, the story of single mother Sibylla, her precocious young son Ludo, and any number of obsessions -- from learning languages to the Kurosawa film Seven Samurai to Ludo's quest to meet his father.
       Lee Konstantinou's compact look at the novel focuses not only on the text itself but also considers the book's creation-, publication-, and reception-history, which makes for interesting background and context -- with Konstantinou going so far as to suggest that:

Ludo's quixotic quest for a better father metaphorically replicates DeWitt's quest, also perhaps quixotic, for a good publisher.
       The Last Samurai did not have an easy path to publication, but was ultimately published in 2000 in the US by high-profile (and quick-to-flame-out) Talk Miramax Books -- a Harvey (and Bob) Weinstein imprint -- and Chatto & Windus in the UK. It did go out of print, but was revived in 2016 by New Directions (with a UK edition, from Vintage, reäppearing in 2018). New Directions has also published some of DeWitt's later work (most recently, the excellent The English Understand Wool) -- with Konstantinou unfortunately not making clear enough how very different a sort of publisher New Directions is from the short-lived Talk Miramax. (Konstantinou also notes that DeWitt signed on with super-agent Andrew Wylie -- though unfortunately not when -- and that that relationship did not work out well; though admittedly it has little bearing on the original publication of the book, more about this would also have been of interest.)
       Konstantinou correctly points out that, for example, regarding publishers and how regularly they go under or are bought out and transformed:
Literary scholarship that doesn't account for this churn fails to contextualize those whom critics deem successful or to understand the role contingency plays in the success of works we take to have enduring value.
       Indeed, even more discussion of the actual publication history and circumstances of DeWitt's novel would have been welcome here, too -- though Konstantinou's suggestion and discussion of 'corporate synergy' (and The Last Samurai as: "a novel about the promise and failure of corporate synergy") is certainly one well-developed and very intriguing part of his (re)reading. Of particular interest, also, is his suggestion that the novel: "forcefully critiques meddlesome middlemen" -- along with then the interesting account of the copy-editing difficulties DeWitt faced with the original publication. (Konstantinou's point feels all the more well-taken in light of The English Understand Wool, another middlemen-critiquing work.) His observation that Ludo eventually: "becomes the fulfilled fantasy of a good middleman" is the kind of interesting conclusion that readers likely would not have come on their own, at least on a first reading of the novel -- showing the value of a 'rereading' such as this.
       Other titbits of interest include some of the difficulties DeWitt had with permissions -- getting permission from the Kurosawa estate to use quotations from Seven Samurai, but not to title the book The Seventh Samurai as she had hoped, for example.
       Textual discussion also includes quite a bit on numbers -- one of the copy-editing sticking points --, while overall Konstantinou's rereading tends toward the bigger picture and context (including where the novel might belong in contemporary fiction), rather than a closer reading of the text and analysis of the story itself (as much of the story-analysis builds on the extra-literary context he presents).
       Certainly, much more could be said about the novel itself, but Konstantinou's little volume can help with that, in providing a framework which can help with the (re)reading of the text -- in particular in suggesting some of the layers that might be less obvious. As such, The Last Samurai Reread is an enjoyable -- and often eye-opening -- companion volume to the novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 November 2022

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The Last Samurai Reread: Reviews: Helen DeWitt: Lee Konstantinou: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Lee Konstantinou teaches at the University of Maryland. He was borni nin 1978.

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© 2022-2023 the complete review

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