Posted by: Matt | June 14, 2007

Cowboy vs. Samurai

This past Saturday I grabbed a 10% off coupon and drove off to Barnes & Noble for some late night perusing. I had with me a list of books I was interested in buying from which I had to chose just one. I got to the store about twenty-five minutes before closing which meant I was in a panic trying to decide which book to buy. You see, I’m not very good at making decisions. I was able to narrow it down to two with about 10 minutes left. So there I was with a little face off…

Lonesome Dove


The Last Samurai

And the winner was… The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. Lonesome Dove was very nearly the victor, but I have plans to purchase it later from as part of their 4 mass-market paperbacks for the price of 3 deal and besides it wasn’t actually on my list. So don’t worry, if you were pulling for Lonesome Dove it will eventually be part of my collection.

If you have not heard of The Last Samurai, I now reveal to you a synopsis courtesy of Publishers Weekly:

DeWitt’s ambitious, colossal debut novel tells the story of a young genius, his worldly alienation and his eccentric mother, Sibylla Newman, an American living in London after dropping out of Oxford. Her son, Ludovic (Ludo), the product of a one-night stand, could read English, French and Greek by the age of four. His incredible intellectual ability is matched only by his insatiable curiosity, and Sibylla attempts to guide her son’s education while scraping by on typing jobs. To avoid the cold, they ride the Underground on the Circle Line train daily, traveling around London as Ludo reads the Odyssey, learns Japanese and masters mathematics and science. Sybilla uses her favorite film, Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, as a makeshift guide for her son’s moral development. As Ludo matures and takes over the story’s narration, Sibylla is revealed as less than forthcoming on certain topics, most importantly the identity of Ludo’s father. Knowing only that his male parent is a travel writer, Ludo searches through volumes of adventure stories, but he is unsuccessful until he happens upon a folder containing his father’s name hidden in a sealed envelope. He arranges to meet the man, pretending to be a fan. The funny, bittersweet encounter ends with a gravely disappointed Ludo, unable to confront his father with his identity. Afterward, the sad 11-year-old resumes his search for his ideal parent figure. Using a test modeled after a scene in Seven Samurai, he seeks out five different men, claiming he is the son of each.

The novel has received some very good reviews, and I was hooked immediately by the title. However, the main complaints, according to customer reviews on Amazon, are that the writing is pretentious and the author appears to be “showing off”. This actually has me more intrigued with the book. Now it just has to make it to the top of my TBR pile.



  1. Lonesome Dove may be my favorite novel of all-time, Matt. If not, it’s right up there somewhere in the top 5 or so. I can really identify with the two main characters and the TV movie starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones is still one of my favorite television experiences…sort of reinforcing my love for McMurtry’s book, I suppose.

  2. I haven’t read either. I’ve never been all that fond of Westerns, but Lonesome Dove has such great reviews, I may give in. Isn’t it an award winner?? I could always add it to THAT list!!

    Is The Last Samuari what the Tom Cruise movie was based from? I HATE Cruise, but that was a phenomenal movie regardless!

  3. Pardon me, Matt, but I’ll jump in here just to tell Stephanie that Lonesome Done won is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

  4. Make that Lonesome DoVe… 🙂

  5. Stephanie – It’s actually not the movie with Tom Cruise, but that was an enjoyable movie even with Cruise in it.

  6. Sam Houston – I definitely plan on reading Lonesome Dove. It is an alternate for me on the Book Awards Reading Challenge. The fact that it won the Pulitzer is probably why I decided to read it because I’m not much for Westerns either. Have you read the other books in the series?

  7. I’m with Stephanie on the Lonesome Dove book. For some reason I associated this book with Louis L’Amour westerns for the longest time. (Which I’ve never read but were always stacked around my grandfather’s house). I see that I should probably check it out sometime. The Last Samurai sounds very interesting – will be looking for your thoughts as you read!

  8. Verbivore – I’ve always associated Westerns with Louis L’Amour, and I never had any desire to read them. But I saw so many good reviews on Lonesome Dove I decided to give it a try. I’m also reading a book right now that is considered a Western, Blood Meridian, which I am very much enjoying.

  9. Matt, I’ve read almost all of McMurtry’s books. The exceptions are some of his more recent ones that are either sequels to Terms of Endearment or The Last Picture Show. His westerns are a bit unusual in the way that he uses humor to give his characters such unique personalities. You’ll see what I mean, I think, when you read Lonesome Dove.

    Also, BTW, Louis L’Amour, IMO, is very overrated as a writer of westerns. Try some of the longer Elmer Kelton westerns set in the early years of this century to get a feel for what it was like to be a cowboy up to about WWII. Great stuff. Kelton’s earlier work is more basic stuff but still beats L’Amour, I think.

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