This is the story of a single mother, Sibylla, who comes from a long line of frustrated talents, and her son Ludo, who just happens to be a child prodigy. She is obsessed with the film, 'The Seven Samurai', and Ludo grows up with the film playing as a bizarre running backdrop to his childhood. At five he starts to teach himself ancient Greek, reading Homer as they travel round and round on the Circle Line because they can't afford to heat their flat.
When Sibylla types out back copies of 'Carp Fishing International' and other minority interest publications to pay the rent, Ludo teaches himself Hebrew, Arabic, Inuit, probability theory, astronomy, and is moving onto Japanese as he decides to embark on the search for his real father - preferably the perfect father in the heroic mould, or at the very least one with samurai virtues. He is bound not only for disappointment but also to find out more than he needs about his mother's shaky past. And at the heart of the novel is the boy's changing relationship with his mother - contradictory, touching and tender.
Full of linguistic pyrotechnics, fabulous learning, philosophy, science, and the workings of a brilliant mind, this is a must-read novel for everyone who relishes language, extravagant ideas, game theory, science, parenthood, not to mention Kurosawa's cinematic masterpiece.