2. “The Last Samurai’ by Helen DeWitt (really this is number 1 as well)
Recommended for: fellow whizkid-lovers!, fans of the Glass family, people interested in foreign languages, education, and child-rearing, people who like bildungsromans, smartasses.
I want to make one thing clear in case you were wondering: the title coincides with the title of a known Hollywood movie with Tom Cruise in it. Like I said, coincides. Totally accidental. The book in fact takes its title from another movie: Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The relationship between Seven Samurai and this book is not so straightforward as the back cover would have you believe. Yes, it’s true that Sibylla, Ludo’s mother is worried about her son growing up without a role model since his father is ignorant about his existence, so she decides to play the movie every day for him in order to give him not one but 8 male role models: the seven samurai and Kurosawa himself! But the truth is that the relationship between book and movie is much more complex than that. There are beliefs and ideologies embedded in the movie that have become part of who Ludo is. There are life lessons to be had from it. There are languages to be learned. There are words of wisdom to be memorized and repeated. There are fictional characters that become real friends. The complexities of the parallel that DeWitt is trying to draw between the two is mostly up to the reader to figure out. I don’t want to say anything more because the book is not so much about the plot. Suffice to say, The Last Samurai ties with I Know This Much Is True for my number one spot this year. Go read it.
Recommended for: Victorian period fans, people who like London, people who think they would like a story about a prostitute called Sugar and her attempts to climb up the social ladder, people who don’t get “offended” easily, people who like big books
Recommended for: history buffs, people interested in American politics, people who like historical metafiction, people who find random trivia fascinating, people who love stumbling upon an unusual authorial voice, people who like the 60s
"The difference between Socrates and Jesus is that no one has ever been put to death in Socrates’ name. And that is because Socrates’ ideas were never made law."
Disclaimer: this post is about books I happened to read this year, not books that were published in 2009.