cover image The Last Samurai Reread

The Last Samurai Reread

Lee Konstantinou. Columbia Univ, $20 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-23118-583-7

Curious how criticism “might be written differently if it were informed by oral history and sociology,” Konstantinou (Pop Apocalypse), associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, delivers a rewarding “biography” of Helen DeWitt’s 2000 novel The Last Samurai. Konstantinou’s approach involves interviews with publishers, editors, and Dewitt herself, who provided Konstantinou with access to multiple versions of her manuscript. Konstantinou chronicles the copyediting of the novel, a contentious process that nearly led DeWitt to self-publish (she “wanted to use numerals instead of spelled-out numbers to mirror how her characters think in mathematical terms”), and the fallout that occurred when the publisher, Talk Miramax, was dissolved five years after publication: the book went out-of-print, only to be republished by New Directions in 2016. Konstantinou draws sharp conclusions about literature (“Moments of failure seem, almost tautologically, to exist outside literary history, but they are in fact the very substance that literary history is made of”) from the story of The Last Samurai, and about DeWitt’s relationship to art. Fans of the novel shouldn’t miss this. (Nov.)