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Shibumi

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Author: Trevanian

Published: May 10th 2005 by Broadway Books (first published 1979)

Format: Paperback , 480 pages

Isbn: 9781400098033

Language: English


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Nicholai Hel is the world’s most wanted man. Born in Shanghai during the chaos of World War I, he is the son of an aristocratic Russian mother and a mysterious German father and is the protégé of a Japanese Go master. Hel survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world’s most artful lover and its most accomplished—and well-paid—assassin. Hel is a genius, a mys Nicholai Hel is the world’s most wanted man. Born in Shanghai during the chaos of World War I, he is the son of an aristocratic Russian mother and a mysterious German father and is the protégé of a Japanese Go master. Hel survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world’s most artful lover and its most accomplished—and well-paid—assassin. Hel is a genius, a mystic, and a master of language and culture, and his secret is his determination to attain a rare kind of personal excellence, a state of effortless perfection known only as shibumi. Now living in an isolated mountain fortress with his exquisite mistress, Hel is unwillingly drawn back into the life he’d tried to leave behind when a beautiful young stranger arrives at his door, seeking help and refuge. It soon becomes clear that Hel is being tracked by his most sinister enemy—a supermonolith of international espionage known only as the Mother Company. The battle lines are drawn: ruthless power and corruption on one side, and on the other . . . shibumi.

30 review for Shibumi

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    The reading public back in 1979 picked this book up thinking they were reading a best selling thriller novel, little did they know they were going to be exposed to a Trevanian philosophy called SHIBUMI. “SHIBUMI has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. SHIBUMI is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In deme The reading public back in 1979 picked this book up thinking they were reading a best selling thriller novel, little did they know they were going to be exposed to a Trevanian philosophy called SHIBUMI. “SHIBUMI has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. SHIBUMI is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without prudency. In art, where the spirit of SHIBUMI takes the form of SABI, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where SHIBUMI emerges as WABI, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is…authority without domination. One does not achieve SHIBUMI, one…discovers it. And only a few men of infinite refinement ever do that. One must pass through knowledge and arrive at simplicity to arrive at SHIBUMI.” I've seen reviewers say that this book is too intelligently written to be published today. A bit cynical in my opinion, the book is a product of the time, but certainly doesn't come across as a typical written by-the-numbers thriller. Written today it would obviously be written differently. Probably some of the more defining aspects of the book would be lost, but I still think this book would make the spring list of a major publisher. The first part is about Nicholai Hei's upbringing in Shanghai and Tokyo. He was born to an exiled Russian countess and a German soldier. His mother does whatever she needs to do to survive as territory changes hands and new armies march into town. Luckily for Hei his mom has the good fortune to snag a Japanese General, Kishikawa,who takes a shine to the boy. He arranges for Nicholai to be sent back to friends who can further his teachings in the Japanese philosophy game of GO. Nicholai has a natural ear for languages and learns five. As the world destabilizes and the Americans and the Russians start competing for trophies, Nicholai finds himself without a country. His one asset is his knowledge of languages. He takes a job working for the Americans even though he loathes them. The book is filled with pointed criticisms of all nationalities, but Trevanian's favorite target is the Americans. "It was not their irritating assumption of equality that annoyed Nicholai so much as their cultural confusions. The Americans seemed to confuse standard of living with quality of life, equal opportunity with institutionalized mediocrity, bravery with courage, machismo with manhood, liberty with freedom, wordiness with articulation, fun with pleasure – in short, all of the misconceptions common to those who assume that justice implies equality for all, rather than equality for equals." Hei commits an act that brings him under the control of the CIA. The accusations that are thrown at him reminded me of 2008 when then Senator Obama was running for President and people were holding up signs with a Hitler mustache under his nose and accusing him of being a Stalinist. I kind of felt they needed to pick whether he was a Nazi or a Communist. It is really hard to be both. "If I understand you, Major-and frankly I don't much care if I do-you are accusing me of being both a communist and a Nazi, of being both a close friend of General Kishikawa's and his hired assassin of being both a Japanese militarist and a Soviet spy. None of this offends your sense of rational probability?" Hei is subjected to devastating torture while in the hands of the Americans and this treatment sets him on his course of being an international assassin for hire and a level four master of sexual intercourse. Yes, in this novel there are four levels of sexual aptitude and I am not going to speculate as to where I fall on the spectrum. The first part of the novel is really good, but I really liked the second part because we get to meet Hei's friends. We find Nicholai living in a chateau in the Basque region of France. His best friend is Beñat Le Cagot a self made man, a Basque poet who has an ego larger than Donald Trump only expressed with much more intelligence. He is randy, fun loving, and a spelunking companion for Hei. He likes expressing himself with colorful language such as "By the Two Damp Balls of John the Baptist." A typical conversation Hei always has to endure Le Cagotisms. "Is everything laid out? "Does the devil hate the wafer?" "Have you tested the Brunton compass?" "Do babies shit yellow? "And you're sure there's no iron in the rock?" "Did Moses start forest fires?" "And the fluorescein is packed up?" "Is Franco an asshole?" Hei takes this all in stride, but I found myself snorting out loud several times at the Le Cagot wit. Trevanian must have had a giggle or two coming up with some of the Le Cagot expressions. Needless to say Hei becomes enmeshed with a situation counter to American interests. He enlists the aid of his other friend "The Gnome" a dwarf (Peter Dinklage?) and a world class blackmailer who has the means to bring governments to their knees. Body counts rise quickly, and in the course of his chess match with the Americans he realizes he has much more to lose than his life philosophy would ever have him admit. The book is at times over the top, spoofish, but the real brilliance of the book is the ability to read it on whatever level you want. If you want to take it to the beach as a mind diverting entertainment it will deliver. If you want to read it and let your mind toss around the aspects of the philosophy of Shibumi that is also quite easily done. Either approach to the book will garner enjoyment. Highly recommended and if I write much more I'm going to convince myself to bump it from four to five stars. I want to leave you with a summary of Hei's view of American culture. "It's not Americans I find annoying; it's Americanism: a social disease of the postindustrial world that must inevitably infect each of the mercantile nations in turn, and is called 'American' only because your nation is the most advanced case of the malady, much as one speaks of Spanish flu, or Japanese Type-B encephalitis. It's symptoms are a loss of work ethic, a shrinking of inner resources, and a constant need for external stimulation, followed by spiritual decay and moral narcosis. You can recognize the victim by his constant efforts to get in touch with himself, to believe his spiritual feebleness is an interesting psychological warp, to construe his fleeing from responsibility as evidence that he and his life are uniquely open to new experiences. In the later stages, the sufferer is reduced to seeking that most trivial of human activities: fun."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kemper

    Nicholai Hel is such a stud duck bad-ass that even if James Bond, Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne and the Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World banded together to try and take him down, he’d just kill them all with a drinking straw while lecturing them on the evils of their materialism. Then he’d have mind blowing sex with their girlfriends. Hel was born to a exiled Russian countess in Shanghai in the ’20s and a Japanese general thinks the young man has such an exceptional talent for the game Nicholai Hel is such a stud duck bad-ass that even if James Bond, Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne and the Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World banded together to try and take him down, he’d just kill them all with a drinking straw while lecturing them on the evils of their materialism. Then he’d have mind blowing sex with their girlfriends. Hel was born to a exiled Russian countess in Shanghai in the ’20s and a Japanese general thinks the young man has such an exceptional talent for the game Go that he sends him to Japan to train. Hel spends years before and during World War II learning the game and immersing himself in Japanese culture. After the war, he gets on the bad side of the occupation forces and spends years in prison. Once released, he becomes an international assassin. Decades later, Hel has retired to his chateau in the mountains with the Basque where he indulges in his hobby of spelunking. However, when the niece of an old friend gets caught up in an international conspiracy led by an oil corporation, Hel will have to decide if an old debt to that friend extends to protecting the woman against powerful international forces. I only vaguely knew about Trevanian after reading Incident at Twenty Mile, but since Don Winslow, one of my favorite crime writers, just released an authorized prequel to this book, I had to check it out. What I found is that Trevanian has done a sly parody of the spy novel here with the incredible Hel being a character of pulp superhero style attributes. Not only he is brilliant with a gift for languages, he is also a mystic capable of going into trances where he becomes one with the universe and he has a ‘proximity sense‘ that allows him to sense other people and their moods.. In addition to all that, he’s a martial arts expert and a world class cave explorer. Oh, and he’s the world‘s foremost lover who can literally ruin a woman for other men if he unleashes his full power upon her. Trevanian’s playing with the format of the spy novel extends to the structure of the book. The first half of the novel consists of the minions of the evil “Mother Company” researching Hel’s origin story after the become worried that he may try to ruin their plans. (The whole idea of the Mother Company being an energy conglomerate that is the real power behind the government to the point where their man Diamond has set up his own office in the CIA and started giving orders to everyone is a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true.) After half the book is spent discussing what a bad ass Hel is, the next quarter of the book is an account of Hel and his friend exploring a cave. It’s only in the last part of the book that the action picks up, but even then, we barely see Hel actually do anything although he does manage to pile up a respectable body count in the last chapters. I liked this book and the way that Trevanian was having some fun with the genre by creating such an over the top character but playing it completely straight. However, there was one aspect that kept bugging me. Trevanian was a staunch anti-materialist. Hel shares this attitude and looks down his nose with contempt at the ‘merchants’ of the world. He has claimed the moral high ground by living in his mountain house with few modern comforts. Yet, even thought Hel is continually portrayed as being the superior person for his way of life, there’s no mention made about how a guy who claims to hate materialism spent years killing people for money, and then spent a fortune on a house in the mountains to live in isolation. So I guess it takes a huge amount of money to truly live a non-materialistic lifestyle. After a while, Hel’s smug and hypocritical attitude about this annoyed the hell out of me because it seemed like the one part of the book Trevanian was serious about.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    He once killed a man while in a small room with 4 guards only paces away. His mother was Russian, his father was German and he was raised by a Japanese Army general. He can speak more than six languages including Basque. He prefers caving to mountain climbing because it is more manly. He is not only the world’s most deadly assassin but also the world’s most accomplished lover. He is a genius and a mystic, a warrior and a gardener. He is Nicholai Hel, the world’s most interesting man. Very enjoyable boo He once killed a man while in a small room with 4 guards only paces away. His mother was Russian, his father was German and he was raised by a Japanese Army general. He can speak more than six languages including Basque. He prefers caving to mountain climbing because it is more manly. He is not only the world’s most deadly assassin but also the world’s most accomplished lover. He is a genius and a mystic, a warrior and a gardener. He is Nicholai Hel, the world’s most interesting man. Very enjoyable book. First of all, this is really two stories: the surface story of a cool elitist professional assassin; and the second is the narrated story, told by Trevanian, with humor, wit and satire. Honestly the second story, the gem of a storyteller tale was the better. Sometimes it was high adventure and sometimes it was laugh out loud funny, as Trevanian, with a wry wink and nod, reminded the reader that this was a tall tale, have some fun with it. One footnote really was the author, making a left field comment about some of his earlier books. I was intrigued to learn that the John Wick stories were heavily influenced by this book and in the first film, when Wick is driving onto the airstrip, the guard is reading Shibumi. Shibumi is a demonstration of a lost art form: the armchair remembrance, the bawdy but hypnotic memoir. We’ve all known someone who could tell about a trip to the post office to buy stamps and make it fun, and Trevanian may be the world’s greatest such someone.

  4. 4 out of 5

    mark monday

    1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5! Senses Working Overtime! SEE the assassin in his youth! see him as a child in war-torn Shanghai, as a young Go-Master in Japan, as a dutiful son and as a tortured prisoner, as an expert caver in Basque Spain, as an equally expert Stage IV Lovemaker! see him enact the "Delight of the Razor" upon his lovely and loving concubine! see him destroy his enemies in an equally subtle fashion! HEAR the clock ticking! an assassin does not live forever! shall he go to his grave as a disposa 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5! Senses Working Overtime! SEE the assassin in his youth! see him as a child in war-torn Shanghai, as a young Go-Master in Japan, as a dutiful son and as a tortured prisoner, as an expert caver in Basque Spain, as an equally expert Stage IV Lovemaker! see him enact the "Delight of the Razor" upon his lovely and loving concubine! see him destroy his enemies in an equally subtle fashion! HEAR the clock ticking! an assassin does not live forever! shall he go to his grave as a disposable pawn to the malevolent Mother Company? or shall he go to his grave in a state of meditative bliss? shall he go to his grave at all? listen to the sound of your heartbeat as you await his decision! he hears you, hiding in that cave, blind and foolish and terminally Western in your inability to truly listen. die, deaf Westerner, die! SMELL the sour tang of fear, the smell of sweat flowing from under your arms to soak your expensive business suit as you contemplate who exactly you have crossed! you have crossed a Master of the "Naked/Kill" technique! smell yourself, businessman! you smell like a fool. die, fool, die! TASTE the sumptuous flavors served to you in an assassin's lair! do they remind you of the unctuous flavors of french cuisine or the brassy flavors of american bbq? you are being served the flavors of the two nations our assassin despises the most! notice the meals of the assassin and his concubine: simple brown rice and sauteed vegetables. enjoy your fatty decadence, Westerner! will it be your last? FEEL the calm and warming presence of the sublime meadow that is the assassin's mystical meditative psychic retreat. and what shall come to those blundering dolts who dare encroach upon this special Happy Place? you have one guess! it is a word that starts with D, foolish Company Man! you think this is a tale of a deadly assassin forced into battle with evil corporate interests; forces that are set upon his destruction in order to further their evil corporate goals of fascist world domination. YOU ARE WRONG. this is a story that is about style . style over substance. style that equals substance. style that is superior to the whinging, entitled, utterly deluded and very Western sense of "substance" - substance that actually equals grandiose self-absorption. style that equals form and form that equals meaning. if you are looking for a book that will give you a fast-paced tale of devious dark deeds and sweet revenge and justice righteously served... look elsewhere, dum-dum! but if you are looking for a novel that takes you to a place of contemplation, a place of understanding that the things we do may not amount to much but the way we do things - the meaning that is implicit in how we actually move about in the world and how that represents what is truly important - that that is what is important, that that is what is genuinely meaningful... well, this is the book for you. "...To be truthful, I hadn't expected such good form from you. Most people of your age and class are so wrapped up in themselves - so concerned with what they're 'into' - that they fail to realize that style and form are everything, and substance a passing myth." He opened his eyes and smiled as he made a pallid effort to imitate the American accent: "It ain't what you do, it's how you do it." plus, a special bonus Sixth Sense included free of charge! PROXIMITY AWARENESS foolish Westerners like to imagine that the sixth sense is telepathy - or perhaps seeing dead people. ha! what use is that exactly? why waste time hearing the despairing dead in their various depressing doldrums? and what is the use of reading the tedious and predictable thoughts of your tedious and predictable fellow humans? i for one am happy to be spared the monotony of those "insights". instead, Shibumi offers a delightful and very useful sixth sense: Proximity Awareness! i would much prefer to be aware of when someone is approaching, or thinking about me, or contemplating using a camera or gun on me. all the better to avoid such monotonous interactions!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Shibumi is, without question, the stupidest book I have ever read. Period. Full stop. It's not close. Shibumi is the 1927 Yankees of stupid books. John Grisham and Dan Brown, working together, operating at the peak of their vaguely misogynist, airport-novel spewing powers, could never hope to approach the mind-exploding stupidity of this book. The protagonist of Shibumi, Nikolai Hel, is best described as an amalgam of James Bond, Bruce Lee, Robert Mitchum and Jesus Christ. He is the least plausib Shibumi is, without question, the stupidest book I have ever read. Period. Full stop. It's not close. Shibumi is the 1927 Yankees of stupid books. John Grisham and Dan Brown, working together, operating at the peak of their vaguely misogynist, airport-novel spewing powers, could never hope to approach the mind-exploding stupidity of this book. The protagonist of Shibumi, Nikolai Hel, is best described as an amalgam of James Bond, Bruce Lee, Robert Mitchum and Jesus Christ. He is the least plausible, most ridiculous character in all of western fiction. He can kill any opponent, bed any woman, and presumably bed any opponent...but only if it was a girl opponent. Hel is a master of an unnamed (and undescribed) martial art referred to as "Naked/Kill" which allows him to use household objects as deadly weapons, and much as made of the fact that it is completely impossible to defend yourself against him. Riiiiiight. As the book jacket states, Hel is the ultimate assassin, but he cares not for such things, preferring instead to meditate on eastern philosophy in his enormous Basque castle and go spelunking (yes, seriously) emerging only to collect new female acolytes for sex training. I believe the term "Stage IV Lovemaking ability" is used w/r/t to our hero at one point. About half the book is devoted to Nikolai's childhood (raised by Japanese prostitutes, of course) and coming of age as master assassin/sex deity, before finally getting to the "plot" in which the "Mother Corporation" tries to hire him, then kill him when he refuses. I will leave it to you bright sparks to figure out who triumphs in the end. In my research for Shibumi quotes, I came across a wiki on bookshelved.org where the authors refer to Shibumi as a sardonic sendup of the spy novel genre. They express incredulity that Amazon reviews the book as a straight thriller. One refers to the book as"pure camp" and "one long piss take" from cover to cover. This is food for thought. If Shibumi was written as satire, my rating would immediately go from 1 star to four or 5. There is no denying that this book is funny. If it was MEANT to be funny, I would have to take back most of the bad things I have ever said about it. The Wiki on Trevanian (nee Robert Whitaker, university professor) could be interpreted as evidence. Surely an educated man would not have created this thinly veiled masturbatory fantasy for ineffectual 12 year old boys in earnest? He must be joking...right? I don't know. I just don't know. Suffice to say, Shibumi stands alone. It is, to borrow from my main man Neal Stephenson, fractally stupid; meaning that if you were to examine any minute aspect of it, that aspect would be as stupid as the book in its entirety.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    I had vaguely heard of Shibumi by reputation, but never actually having had read it, I decided to take the dive. And quite the dive it was with spies and assassinations, sex, and vengeance. After a few hundred pages of backstory, it blisters through the plot at breakneck speed. The protagonist is the deadly Nicholai Hel, assassin of terrorists and aspirer to the Japanese state of perfect consciousness, or shibumi. We learn of his birth to a Russian/Aryan/German mother and unknown German father i I had vaguely heard of Shibumi by reputation, but never actually having had read it, I decided to take the dive. And quite the dive it was with spies and assassinations, sex, and vengeance. After a few hundred pages of backstory, it blisters through the plot at breakneck speed. The protagonist is the deadly Nicholai Hel, assassin of terrorists and aspirer to the Japanese state of perfect consciousness, or shibumi. We learn of his birth to a Russian/Aryan/German mother and unknown German father in pre-war Shanghai, the effect of the Japanese invasion on China, his surrogate Japanese father...in fact the book covers a lot of ground between Chinese, Japanese, and Basque culture and history. Nicholai's adoptive Japanese father ultimately is drawn into the war and sends the boy to Japan to study the Japanese game of Go with Otake-san, a Dan seven legend. Otake-san teaches the boy many things, not the least of which about the knowledge of older people: "never resent the advantage of experience your elders have. Recall that they have paid for this experience in the coins of life and have emptied a purse that cannot be refilled." (p. 117). It is interesting to note that most of Hel's make companions from then on are his age or older. I also appreciated this twist on a common maxim: "Many Japanese seemed not to realize that the propaganda of the victor becomes the history of the vanquished." (p. 141). Arrayed against our hero is the Mother Company, one of those Hydra-like supra-governmental organizations representing the power of oil and telecommunications forcing various militaristic organizations such as the CIA and both MI-5 and MI-6 under their heel. Sort of like Crown Prince Bonesaw allied with Zuch and Huawei with Pompeo and Mom all working for him. Except he's a she. Well, anyway, these baddies are willing to kill nine people in the elimination of just two and, of course, miss the one that will be able to lure Hel out of retirement to fight for her cause. In a nutshell, that is the core of the plot. One interesting sidenote is how, as far back as 1980, Trevanian was insightful and visionary enough to see the evil potential of a supercomputer - like Facebook and Google today - that studies minute actions of all of the world's citizens called Fat Boy (interesting choice of name also given the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and Hel's first love interest). So, you can think of Hel as a sort of Ed Snowden that can kill you with a playing card or drinking straw. Did that get your attention? Needless to say, there are high moments and low moments in this epic struggle including a long cave sequence (too long?) that becomes critical to one of the key moments late in the plot (No Spoilers, I promise). Along the way, we learn of Hel's few friends: - Hana - his concubine with whom he has level IV sex (!) - this sex is never described because as the author points out in a footnote, detailed descriptions performed incorrectly could produce permanent harm in the practioners - see the footnote on page 179 - Le Cagot - his boisterous Basque caving friend who is a Zorba the Greek kind of larger than life Dionysian giant - The Gnome/De Llandes - who is is intellectual counterpart providing him with a backdoor into Fat Boy and thus leverage against the big boys We only meet the Gnome briefly, but we are able to see a true bromance having formed. I liked how De Llandes telescopes their friendship into twelve hours:"We have know each other for more than twenty years, but...we have shared perhaps a total of twelve hours of intimate conversation, of honest inquiry into one another's minds and emotions...Actually, that's not bad. Most good friends and married couples (these are seldom the same thing) could not boast twelve hours of honest interest after a lifetime of shared space and irritations, of territorial assertions and squabbles." (p. 405). I found that rings true because my best, deepest friendships are with those I spend the least time with to some degree. As for the book, the style is very late 70s with loads of sexism (braless boobs, carelessly exposed pubic hair and James Bond-like sex) and loads of clichés (the tired ones about Arabs, but also about Americans and French (see the diatribe by Le Cagot in the cave). Perhaps, it was partly as satire of Bond literature, and there were strong female characters such as Hana (albeit that her position was due to her expertise in sex) and Mrs Perkins, but most of the female characters were relatively superficial (like ill-fated Hannah). So, don't expect the multi-cultural positivity of Leigh Bardugo or Suzanne Collins here. As for Hel, he is a fascinating anti-hero:There was a time in the comedy of human development when salvation seemed to lie in the direction of order and organization, and all the great Western heroes organized and directed their followers against the enemy: chaos. Now we are learning that the final enemy is not chaos, but organization; not divergence, but similarity; not primitivism, but progress. And the new hero - the antihero - is the one who makes a virtue of attacking the organization, of destroying the systems. We realize now that the salvation of the race lies in that nihilist direction, but we still don't know how far." (p. 407). I would add that even now, 40 years later, we still have not decided on this. We have both kinds of heros - Superman representing the former and Batman representing the latter (or if we take Marvel characers, Iron Man vs Captain American in Avengers: Civil War), so I found that particularly insightful. Overall, a fun and interesting read. Exciting and with a positive message overall despite the hundred and eight corpses that litter the pages - mostly bad guys or avenged good guys. A worthy read that entertains to a great degree and educates to a minor one (again when one filters out the sexism and racism).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    If you've ever wanted to know what it takes to become the world's hottest lover and most kick-ass ninja-style assassin, then Shibumi lets you in on the secret. First, you need to learn to play Go well; then you have to become fluent in Basque. Real Go players tell me I'm about second Dan strength, but unfortunately I don't know any Basque at all. One out of two ain't bad, I guess. Anyway, you've probably figured out why I adore this engagingly crazy book. ________________________________ I thought If you've ever wanted to know what it takes to become the world's hottest lover and most kick-ass ninja-style assassin, then Shibumi lets you in on the secret. First, you need to learn to play Go well; then you have to become fluent in Basque. Real Go players tell me I'm about second Dan strength, but unfortunately I don't know any Basque at all. One out of two ain't bad, I guess. Anyway, you've probably figured out why I adore this engagingly crazy book. ________________________________ I thought of Shibumi last week when I was in Japan, and wondered whether I should add something here about the plot. I don't really think it's necessary. Basically, it's just your standard boy meets girl, boy becomes champion Go player, girl gets killed in nuclear attack, boy switches profession and becomes ninja-style assassin, boy learns Basque, boy meets second girl, boy and second girl play a lot of advanced sex games, boy meets third girl, third girl gets killed by shadowy Arab/American multinational company, boy swears revenge, boy... Oh, well. I admit it. It's not completely standard. But, you know, just minor variations on the usual theme. ________________________________ If you've never bothered to look at the Wikipedia article on Trevanian, it's worth reading. This was my favorite bit:It was rumored that Trevanian was Robert Ludlum writing under a pen name. Trevanian rejected that idea stating, "I don't even know who he is. I read Proust, but not much else written in the 20th century.When are they going to make a movie about him?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Authority Without Domination: “Shibumi” by Trevanian "Miss Swivven regretted two aspects of her career: this getting sunburned every week or so, and the occasional impersonal use Mr. Diamond made of her to relieve his tensions. Still, she was philosophic. No job is perfect.”   In "Shibumi" by Trevanian “Hana laughed softly. “Do call me Hana. After all, I am not Nicholai’s wife. I am his concubine.”   In "Shibumi" by Trevanian I’ve read "Shibu If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Authority Without Domination: “Shibumi” by Trevanian "Miss Swivven regretted two aspects of her career: this getting sunburned every week or so, and the occasional impersonal use Mr. Diamond made of her to relieve his tensions. Still, she was philosophic. No job is perfect.”   In "Shibumi" by Trevanian “Hana laughed softly. “Do call me Hana. After all, I am not Nicholai’s wife. I am his concubine.”   In "Shibumi" by Trevanian I’ve read "Shibumi" a long time ago. Its appeal was so great at the time that immediately after having finished it, I wanted to take up Basque lessons and learn to play Goo. Apparently and according to Trevanian, chess and Goo are utterly “different”:   ‘”How would you compare chess with Goo?” Nicholai thought for a second. “Ah…what Goo is to philosophers and warriors, chess is to accountants and merchants.”’   Read on, if you're not afraid to read hich-octane literature disguised as spy fiction.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mike (the Paladin)

    I picked this up because it's been selected by a group I'm in as a group read. I doubt I'll do much in that conversation as I am MAJORLY disappointed in this book. You know, since the late 1960s or so the CIA has become the favored "whipping boy" (I apologize for the cliche given my complaints about the book). If the CIA really had as many traitorous, evil, inept and/or downright stupid agents as I've seen in movies, books and on TV there would be no good agents. I was tempted to put in a link to I picked this up because it's been selected by a group I'm in as a group read. I doubt I'll do much in that conversation as I am MAJORLY disappointed in this book. You know, since the late 1960s or so the CIA has become the favored "whipping boy" (I apologize for the cliche given my complaints about the book). If the CIA really had as many traitorous, evil, inept and/or downright stupid agents as I've seen in movies, books and on TV there would be no good agents. I was tempted to put in a link to the CIA Memorial Wall. That's the wall where nameless stars are inset in a wall for agents killed in the line of duty. Need I say that I realize the CIA has some "asses" and the I know some operations were quite probably far from kosher. Then again there are bad cops, soldiers who run or turn traitor and so on. The Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy could never function treated the way the CIA is. I know, I was in in the early '70s (discharged in '75). I was once cursed by a teen for wearing my Class A uniform. Here we open going right down the line with so many cliches I figure they must have come from somewhere like "plots and characters are us". We meet CIA types who are plotting with an Islamic radical against Israel. We are also covering up global warming because we are obviously slaves of the "Military Industrial Complex". To make matters worse one of the CIA types has a southern/country accent. Obviously he's not only evil he's stupid...as all people from anywhere but a coastal city are. We watch as the CIA pulls off an assassination and then kills their own men (the assassins)...just to be sure, you know. Standard operating procedure. I mean maybe back in the 1960s and the 1970s the first 10,000 or so times this idea/plot was done it might have been original...but no more. I find the book derivative, predictable and cliche ridden. Enjoy this if it's what you like. I'm happy for you. I can't recommend it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    Fuck. I have to retract two stars and my rave review. I mean, clearly it was a rave. I'd say this book loses the plot about half way through, but to be fair, there isn't really a plot. Once the book leaves Japan and finds its home in Basque land, it rapidly becomes close to unbearable. I am afraid that whilst I savoured the first half, the second I ended up just skimming. I have way too many good books on the shelf to be spending precious time on this one. I am leaving my half-cocked first discus Fuck. I have to retract two stars and my rave review. I mean, clearly it was a rave. I'd say this book loses the plot about half way through, but to be fair, there isn't really a plot. Once the book leaves Japan and finds its home in Basque land, it rapidly becomes close to unbearable. I am afraid that whilst I savoured the first half, the second I ended up just skimming. I have way too many good books on the shelf to be spending precious time on this one. I am leaving my half-cocked first discussion of this as it, testimony to my idiocy. It follows. I’m only half way through, but my opinion will not change. This is a clear-as-day 5-star book and that’s from a fussy star attributor. After having to read – or start, at least – popular best sellers of late which are so badly written: Harry P., the third volume (and the others?) of Northern Lights, the Dragon Tattoo trilogy – it is a vast relief to be reminded that a book can be both finely written and unputdownable fun, thrilling and thoughtful. It can even be propagandist, if it is done the right way. Now that I think of it, is this a pattern: HP, NL, DT are all volumes produced ad infinitum. Shibumi could easily be like that, dragged out for ever, but instead it is one, standalone book. And boy, does it stand alone. Class of its own. This, quoted from Trevanian’s own site: Q: Americans are reading lots of books, but at least anecdotally it appears they are reading blockbusters and that smaller, literary titles are being pushed to the margins. Do you see a similar trend in Europe, and what impact will this have? A: Alas, yes, it’s coming to Europe as well and it’s a great pity. A lot of excellent new writers will never get read. This is hardest on the story-tellers of America, because writers of attractively-packaged fact and history are still doing fairly well, although even these readerships are dwindling, captured by the internet and by the electronic games that consume so much of the time of the kinds of kids who used to read history and science. The shadow of ‘literary globalization’ is falling across all of western Europe, and will hit the English-writing countries first, as English is the language of commerce, and therefore it’s the foreign language of preference for the teeming populations whose five hundred word vocabularies limit them to language on a comic book level. Hence Barbara Cartland is still the most popular English language writer in India. And I’ve heard there is a similar dumbing-down impulse at home, where a series of children’s books by a very canny English writer is the most popular read on American campuses. Does this mean that HP, NL and DT had to be badly written? That although Shibumi was a best seller in its day, late seventies, now it would not survive, it is too intelligent and well written? The point is not that they are reading blockbusters, but that once upon a time these blockbusters were well crafted things, at least if this book is any guide. In fact, Shibumi has been an eye-opener for me. I have been sticking up for some of these books lately when clearly I should not have been. But if Manny is correct in suggesting, as Trevanian is also observing, that English is going through a period of simplification and that this is the consequence, badly written tripe being lapped up by the reading public, what a tragedy. I can’t imagine a world in which we have lost the capacity to say interesting things, because we have had the linguistic skills necessary to do so taken away by generations of illiterate facebookers and smsers. I expect there will be more to come here after I have finished the book, but for now, I thought it was interesting to read what the author had to say later about his opinion on Israel and its neighbours: Q:Since I first read Shibumi and then reread it twenty years later, my opinion of the Israeli-Palestinian situation has changed entirely, as a result of becoming much better informed...Has your opinion in this regard at all changed since Shibumi has been published? A:I hope there are many Americans who can remain flexible through the fog of prejudice and fear about this issue. Things have changed almost entirely in Israel/Palestine over the nearly thirty years since I wrote Shibumi: the underdogs have become the bullies, and intractable fundamentalists call the shots in Israel; what in Shibumi we called the Mother Company (the Petro-chemical Mafia) have inserted their creature into the White House; and the greatest potential for ecological disaster is no longer man's lazy thirst for oil, but rather his soaring over-population. Nicholas Hel would not have lent his support to the current leaders of Israel. He would have wished the current rational leaders of Palestine all good fortune in negotiating towards peace with justice, now that Arafat is no longer in the way. (Footnote: Arafat's end has all the marks of an inside job, almost surely with the assistance of the second bureau. Israel, of course, knew what was going on, and it's likely that they informed the United States, but that's not sure. It's hard to put limits on the incompetence of American intelligence services. Each time we find a lower value, they prove they can fail even that; so Israel might not have informed us early enough for us to get our clumsy hands into things and mess them up.) What should America do now? Using such tatters of even-handedness as we still possess, we should guide (drag, if necessary) the Israelis into as fair and honest a sharing of land and water as is possible. Then we must open our hands and carefully step back, out of Middle East affairs, turning them over to the United Nations. I wonder when this was written, it shows an unlikely trust in the United Nations, which in my opinion, is shamefully bereft of moral purpose. Oh, and this: I must take issue with all my friends who have reviewed this. It is not just a fun book, or a thriller. It is a very strongly felt position about how we are living and how we should live. This book manages to hammer and hammer and hammer this message home, whilst making you feel like you are 'just reading a best seller'. That he has managed to write something so entirely enjoyable whilst doing this is such a feat, I am completely in awe of it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book is for people who like James Bond, Jason Bourne, and all those other super-ninja Gary Stu action heroes fueled by atomic testosterone. Except if you pay attention, Trevanian is laughing at you. Shibumi shamelessly exploits every single cliche in the genre and then sneers at them. Trevanian's mockery of American culture is acidly funny and not particularly affectionate. Sometimes the self-aware satire and the angry derision seem to blend together. “It was not their irritating assumption This book is for people who like James Bond, Jason Bourne, and all those other super-ninja Gary Stu action heroes fueled by atomic testosterone. Except if you pay attention, Trevanian is laughing at you. Shibumi shamelessly exploits every single cliche in the genre and then sneers at them. Trevanian's mockery of American culture is acidly funny and not particularly affectionate. Sometimes the self-aware satire and the angry derision seem to blend together. “It was not their irritating assumption of equality that annoyed Nicholai so much as their cultural confusions. The Americans seemed to confuse standard of living with quality of life, equal opportunity with institutionalized mediocrity, bravery with courage, machismo with manhood, liberty with freedom, wordiness with articulation, fun with pleasure - in short, all of the misconceptions common to those who assume that justice implies equality for all, rather than equality for equals.” So what to make of a book where the main character is named Nicholai Hel? His mother was a Russian aristocrat, he was born in Shanghai, he was raised by a Japanese go master, and in the aftermath of World War II, he becomes the most ninjaest ninja ever. He learns Basque while spending three years in solitary confinement and so he moves to Spain to hang out in Basque country with his Afro-Euroasian concubine who is lovingly described as a collection of all the best body parts from the sum of her ethnicities. The plot is your basic revenge thriller: Hel's ties of duty and obligation bring him into conflict with the Mother Company, which is the umbrella organization representing all the world's energy interests and pretty much controls the Western world. In between snappy dialog in which Hel shows off how he is just so refined and Shibumi and shit with derision leveled at every Western country (the Brits, the French, the Italians, and the Germans all get it in the neck at some point, but no one more than Americans), there are action scenes where Hel proves he can do everything from cave diving to killing people with playing cards, equally over-the-top sex scenes 'cause of course learning to kill and play go also makes Hel totally awesome at the sexing. What elevated this book above the schlock it is pretending to be is the vicious satire and the clever writing. Trevanian could write some sophisticated literary pulp fiction. He was having fun while poking his readers in the eye. He plays it straight all the way through: Shibumi reads like you are supposed to take it seriously, but you can kind of hear the author's snicker echoing in the main character's dialog. I suspect the racism and sexism was part of the performance. This is a Men's Adventure novel for the cynical hipsters of the 70s, back before appropriating Japanese culture was what all the cool kids did and the idea of structuring a killer thriller around the Oriental game of go (yeah, Shibumi uses words like "Oriental" unironically, and also refers to Arabs as "goat-herds" and portrays all the Arab characters as cowardly gay terrorists) made all the literati who wanted to read something a little more masculine than J.R.R. Tolkien groove on Trevanian's way cool, like, deeep understanding of Oriental culture, man. Alas, I can't mock Trevanian nearly as wittily as he mocks me. This was a fun novel, entertaining on multiple levels. It really does have the tone of a literary author slumming in a chanbara cinema.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    My original review was wrong in a couple of respects, not bad though for the 25 years or so that had passed since I read it. I'd say it is somewhat closer to Eisler's John Rain than the other authors I mentioned, & it wasn't shibumi that I didn't like, it was Hel's final thoughts & conclusions, although I must admit they fit him well & brings home a point made early on. Truly well done. Nicholas Hel is an interesting character, one of the most complicated I've ever read in a mystery-thriller. He' My original review was wrong in a couple of respects, not bad though for the 25 years or so that had passed since I read it. I'd say it is somewhat closer to Eisler's John Rain than the other authors I mentioned, & it wasn't shibumi that I didn't like, it was Hel's final thoughts & conclusions, although I must admit they fit him well & brings home a point made early on. Truly well done. Nicholas Hel is an interesting character, one of the most complicated I've ever read in a mystery-thriller. He's intelligent & tough, a connoisseur of Go, assassination, caving, rock gardens, & love making. I found the last a bit much in the context of the book even allowing for hyperbole, but the others were kind of neat & all worked toward his goal of shibumi. He learns secrets of these arts & we're shown glimpses of them, but Trevanian excuses himself from giving details about 1/3 of the way through with a footnote that indicates his previous books were responsible for getting a man killed (The Eiger Sanction) or as a guide to one of the greatest art thefts. (Not sure what book that was in.) Shibumi is the noun form of 'shibui' according to Wikipedia, although the book says at one point that the former is greater than the latter. As I understand Trevanian's definition in the book, it is the aesthetic of perfect function in or of something that is done in a simple and unobtrusively beautiful way or form. That is Hel's goal in life, to creating perfection in himself & his surroundings. This implies balance within himself, his relationships, his needs & desires. Hel's life began with a great handicap to obtaining this goal & that's what makes Hel at once both admirable & a selfish bastard. He's the hero & I was rooting for him, but he's never very likable, although certainly competent in this wonderfully cynical world. That's part of the fascination of the story, the cynical dislike that it embodies & gives free rein to. There are no straightforward or patriotic actions, everything is part of a vast conspiracy of expediency & greed. No one has any respect for anyone else, but it is often so artfully phrased that it's almost fun, especially since the insults fall on every nation. Hel tells one American, "Generalization is flawed thinking only when applied to individuals. It is the most accurate way to describe the mass, the Wad. And yours is a democracy, a dictatorship of the Wad." A statement that is both true & thoroughly demeaning to the merchant country that Hel despises in light of this story. The Mother Company is another cynical construct of such possibility that it is scary. Worse, this book from 1979 discusses a computer system that has so many facts about everyone that it takes an artistic touch to obtain a meaningful overview of a person. The danger lies not in too shallow a view, but in so many facts that it overwhelms the recipient with such trivia as grade school honors & toilet paper preference. Even back then it bred nightmares of conspiracy theories & now it just seems likely, especially given the interests they represent. All very well done, but there were some flies in the ointment. As exacting as descriptions of the caves & mountains were, operations were barely sketched in their planning & execution, with the exception of the climaxes. Trevanian made his excuses early as I pointed out above, but it still casts them in as 'magical fixes'. Too many wheels turned too quickly & smoothly. Life was a bit too cheap, too. Another is Hel's martial art skill. We never find out where or how he learned it, but he's legendary for killing people with whatever is at hand, including a drinking straw. We spend a good chunk of the book exploring Go, caves, even how he picked up his legendary skill at making love, but there is no mention of when, how, or where he picked up his deadliest skill. Again, it comes off as neat, but magical, so severely weakened the novel as a whole for me. Still, if you can abide those few flaws, it's a hell of a story & Hel puts all other assassins to shame. He has more class than Bond & is apparently better in bed. On top of that, he has a deep philosophy & is a legend in the circles of power. Very cool. ----------------------- Update: My friend, Michael, just pointed out that Satori by Don Winslow is a homage to & another part of Hel's story. It's set back during the Korean War, so before "Shibumi". Both reviews that I read said they loved "Shibumi" & were worried that this book wouldn't meet the mark, but it did. I've ordered it, so hopefully will review it soon. ----------------------- Orginal review 2007 or so It's a good action/spy novel. The title word, 'Shibumi' is the main theme of the book & it's well done. I can't really explain without giving away too much of the book. I also can't give it higher marks because it's been too long since I've read it & I happen to philosophically disagree with the idea of 'Shibumi'. Your mileage could very well vary, though. As I recall, it was well written. If you like David Morrell's or Stephen Hunter's spy novels, you'll probably like this.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Lucero

    Nicolai (Nikko) Hel is a one of a kind man caught in uncommon circumstances. When he and his mother are trapped in China during the Japanese invasion, they are accepted into the home of a Japanese general of administration who takes a liking to Nikko (known more commonly as Hel). He teaches the boy many languages, including the art of Shibumi, which is more than simply the knowledge of things, but rather the 'understanding' of things. Over the course of the war and Japan's eventual surrender, Hel Nicolai (Nikko) Hel is a one of a kind man caught in uncommon circumstances. When he and his mother are trapped in China during the Japanese invasion, they are accepted into the home of a Japanese general of administration who takes a liking to Nikko (known more commonly as Hel). He teaches the boy many languages, including the art of Shibumi, which is more than simply the knowledge of things, but rather the 'understanding' of things. Over the course of the war and Japan's eventual surrender, Hel finds himself without a country. Being half-Russian, he is suspect among conquering Americans, who learn to accept him because of his multi-linguistic capabilities. His knowledge of martial arts helps him during meditation periods after he spends a time in prison. Upon his eventual release, Americans use his skills to infiltrate enemy organizations, and Hel soon becomes an efficient killer. But Hel takes revenge on those who have thrust him into this life of murder-for-hire. And when a man seeking revenge for the loss of his brother by Hel's hands, Nikko Hel's quiet, dignified life in the Spanish Basque mountains is suddenly turned upside down. It will take all of his skills to survive and possible seek to 'quiet' those who would dare challenge him. This book was recommended to me by my son, who has this copy in his collection. It's the sort of story one keeps for another read. The reader is transported to pre-WWII China, Japan during and after the war, and eventually Europe where Hel has made his life. The characters are colorful and illuminating. I was left to wonder if this sort of person actually existed, and would not be all surprised if there are. Written in 1979, this book like so many proves a story is timeless.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    classic spy novel--learned that airports had inferior screening policies in the '70s from reading this book, also that Go is a Japanese game which holds all the secrets of life. this book is must read. put down your bibles and read Shibumi.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tim Hainley

    Less a novel than Trevanian's expansive personal shitlist of people he hates in novel-form. A partial list of said people includes: Arabs, Americans, young people, some Jews, women who aren't concubines, feminists, Texans, Russians, Prussians, merchants, Andy Warhol, modern Japanese, Arabs (seriously,) Italians, French, Brits, some Basques, Cowboys, War Criminals (Japanese ones excluded,) Christians, chess players, wine snobs, Clint Eastwood, bankers, airport security, gays (this despite his see Less a novel than Trevanian's expansive personal shitlist of people he hates in novel-form. A partial list of said people includes: Arabs, Americans, young people, some Jews, women who aren't concubines, feminists, Texans, Russians, Prussians, merchants, Andy Warhol, modern Japanese, Arabs (seriously,) Italians, French, Brits, some Basques, Cowboys, War Criminals (Japanese ones excluded,) Christians, chess players, wine snobs, Clint Eastwood, bankers, airport security, gays (this despite his seeming-penchant for the rippling thighs of young Basque lads,) salespeople, Stage 1 lovers, and Arabs. He really, really hates Arabs. He sure seems to be down with assholes, though. Ahh, Shibumi: you're exquisite trash. Don't ever change.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rod

    I recall seeing Shibumi on paperback stands when I was in elementary or middle school, and it seemed like a typical thriller like the Robert Ludlum and Erik Van Lustbader novels I was starting to graduate to after tiring of the Mack Bolan ("The Executioner") action series. I never did pick it up even though it did seem like something I would have read at the time. I'm glad I didn't, because it would have been over my young, callow head. I wouldn't have picked up on the fact that it is a witty, i I recall seeing Shibumi on paperback stands when I was in elementary or middle school, and it seemed like a typical thriller like the Robert Ludlum and Erik Van Lustbader novels I was starting to graduate to after tiring of the Mack Bolan ("The Executioner") action series. I never did pick it up even though it did seem like something I would have read at the time. I'm glad I didn't, because it would have been over my young, callow head. I wouldn't have picked up on the fact that it is a witty, intelligent spy spoof (more the 1962 film version of The Manchurian Candidate or a less arch Dr. Strangelove than Our Man Flint or those Dean Martin "Matt Helm" movies), and the digressions to things philosophical and arcane would have bored me. He's an international assassin, but he hardly ever kills anybody! He just sits around and plays Go, and disparages westerners, and meditates, and occasionally has tantric sex! And then he goes spelunking for a hundred pages! He practices a secret martial art called "naked/kill" that allows the practitioner to kill a man instantly using any object at hand, even a paper drinking straw, but we never hear any details on how he received this training, or how it works? And he has basically what amounts to Spidey-Sense?! Ridiculous! And it would be, if Trevanian weren't a prose writer practically without fault, with an acid wit that doesn't belay his ability to exhibit deep feeling when called for. For one who is ostensibly a writer of "airport paperbacks," Trevanian takes his time and lets the story build up slowly over the long haul. He avoids cliches and takes narrative turns that the reader won't necessarily suspect, but are nonetheless satisfying. He is also remarkably prescient regarding world politics and finance, and what probably seemed mere fancy to readers in 1979 will strike a chord of plausibility in those of us today who sometimes wonder who's really running things. Plus, he taught me about "Volvo-bashing".

  17. 4 out of 5

    Austin

    The first warning sign was that the author goes by only one name. Any guy who attempts this little bit of artifice not doubt has an ego that impedes upon gentle ingress and egress of doors, automobiles, sweaters, etc. Even the people who have pulled off the single moniker still have full names that are known to their most ardent fans (e.g., Elvis Aaron Presley, Jesus Horatio Christ). Still, this was enough to have me determined to root against the guy's protagonist out of sheer spite, but I digr The first warning sign was that the author goes by only one name. Any guy who attempts this little bit of artifice not doubt has an ego that impedes upon gentle ingress and egress of doors, automobiles, sweaters, etc. Even the people who have pulled off the single moniker still have full names that are known to their most ardent fans (e.g., Elvis Aaron Presley, Jesus Horatio Christ). Still, this was enough to have me determined to root against the guy's protagonist out of sheer spite, but I digress... The writing of this book was mostly heavy-handed 2-star fair (predictable plot, stereotypical characters) with occasional 1-star bits (the protagonist has a sixth "proximity" sense that let's him identify danger in the dark, he was also a mystic, and the world's greatest lover*). The only reason I didn't give it 1 star is that there are brief passages that are well written and offer keen insights into either the human condition or the American personality (in as much as either truly exists). Of course, there are passages where he tries the same and misses (or just beats the Americans-are-shallow angle to death). In the end, I am embarrassed to admit, I did end up rooting for the protagonist and don't entirely regret the time I spent reading this one, so it I'll let him keep the second star for the time being. *This book was written before I was born. The rankings have likely been adjusted in more recent years. ----------------------------------------- UPDATE -- I am absolutely shocked to realize that after more than 2000 reviews, this book has a higher average rating than The Glass Bead Game, The Name of the Rose, or Gravity's Rainbow. Proof that not all hive-minds are created equal...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Arun Divakar

    The name reminded me of a Samurai and of what he would have faced during a life time of combat. There can be parallels to this idea in this book but what it is in reality is a totally different beast. Trevanian creates an elaborate joke which scorns at the 'Super Assassin' genre in Shibumi. Shibumi in simple English means Casual Elegance tells the author. A way of life which in itself sets the dudes aside from the dunderheads. The story is about a man named Nicholai Hel who the author repeatedly The name reminded me of a Samurai and of what he would have faced during a life time of combat. There can be parallels to this idea in this book but what it is in reality is a totally different beast. Trevanian creates an elaborate joke which scorns at the 'Super Assassin' genre in Shibumi. Shibumi in simple English means Casual Elegance tells the author. A way of life which in itself sets the dudes aside from the dunderheads. The story is about a man named Nicholai Hel who the author repeatedly reminds us for about 75% of the pages is the most formidable assassin ever. A mystic, a sexually hyper charged alpha male, able to kill with bare hands, world renowned underground cave explorer, well read and a polyglot with a command of over seven languages, able to think in mathematical abstractions owing to his refined state of play in the Japanese game of Go etc. Yes, I am talking about one man and he is not a computer. The back story fills a big chunk of the book and then for about a hundred pages we are given the details of how he discovers an underground cave. Being an assassin, his core competency is examined in roughly about 15 pages towards the end. For a man of such fine tastes, the way he overcomes his enemies is something that made me blanch. I strongly believe that the final 100 pages of this book was the biggest bunch of hogwash I have ever read in recent times. There is a lot of America bashing in here, Trevanian spares nothing : food,culture,sex,western philosophy, the CIA & even the government is all scorned at. The conclusion : Japan has a kick ass culture & America does not. There are culture comparisons and then there is bitching. A good part of the comments offered here fall into the second category. For a book that was recommended as a master piece among thrillers, this one was a dud !

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marius van Blerck

    I must really be missing something. A quick internet search locates many favourable reviews of both this book, and of its author, Rodney William Whitaker (aka Trevanian), who apparently positioned himself as someone who read Proust, but not much else written in the 20th century. Consider this statement from Wikipedia: Shibumi is elaborately written, using a very extended vocabulary, based on a sound knowledge in history and geopolitics, switching easily from pessimism to wry humor, Shibumi is mo I must really be missing something. A quick internet search locates many favourable reviews of both this book, and of its author, Rodney William Whitaker (aka Trevanian), who apparently positioned himself as someone who read Proust, but not much else written in the 20th century. Consider this statement from Wikipedia: Shibumi is elaborately written, using a very extended vocabulary, based on a sound knowledge in history and geopolitics, switching easily from pessimism to wry humor, Shibumi is more than a mere thriller, and may be compared to other works such as Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-four and Fahrenheit 451. And there’s much more of the same in other reviews. However, I have seldom read or listened to a more inept, poorly-written thriller, and the comparison to the three great works referred to is ludicrous. The characters in Shibumi are absurd stereotypes, the writing-style is awkward (clearly if the author indeed read Proust extensively, he absorbed little), and the plot-line is as weak as cheap coffee.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Benoit Lelièvre

    I cannot, for the life of me, resume what SHIBUMI is about. If you think it's a spy thriller, you're a fool. If you think this is a spoof, you're slightly more enlightened but you're still narrow minded. It's the masterpiece, the time-defying work of an enlightened soul with democratic intentions. Trevanian is a literary writer, yet he sturctures his stories in a way for most people to feel intelligent and enlightened. Most important, it's a vehicle for his opinions and passions. To keep it simp I cannot, for the life of me, resume what SHIBUMI is about. If you think it's a spy thriller, you're a fool. If you think this is a spoof, you're slightly more enlightened but you're still narrow minded. It's the masterpiece, the time-defying work of an enlightened soul with democratic intentions. Trevanian is a literary writer, yet he sturctures his stories in a way for most people to feel intelligent and enlightened. Most important, it's a vehicle for his opinions and passions. To keep it simple, it's structured around the principle of the Japanese game of GO,which has been known to be a framework of thoughts of the great warlords. What happens to Nicholai Hel in this movie is filtered through his state of mind and separated like the movements of a Go game. Enlightening, stimulating read for the curious mind. Very impressive character study. In fact, it might be the most impressive I have ever read. A stunning work.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rosalind Hartmann

    My high school senior year literature teacher gave me this book to read during a post graduate visit. It's an amazing book about a hired killer with a zen like outlook on life and death. One of my favorite books ever.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kalin

    Intense and intelligent and incendiary--if you're fool enough to take offense at a book that dishes out offense at everybody. Consider these select specimens: https://choveshkata.net/forum/viewtop... Intense and intelligent and incendiary--if you're fool enough to take offense at a book that dishes out offense at everybody. Consider these select specimens: https://choveshkata.net/forum/viewtop...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Johnrh

    This may be the longest book commentary/review I’ve ever written, as priceless quotes abound throughout the book and I plan to include many. All are from the 2011 paperback copy. I’m including numerous info links. Use them after your first read of the review or as you go. You choose. Trevanian's SHIBUMI. Originally published in 1979. Trevanian is one of the pen names of Rodney William Whitaker (1931-2005). He notably wrote The Eiger Sanction. ”In the process of converting this novel into a vapid This may be the longest book commentary/review I’ve ever written, as priceless quotes abound throughout the book and I plan to include many. All are from the 2011 paperback copy. I’m including numerous info links. Use them after your first read of the review or as you go. You choose. Trevanian's SHIBUMI. Originally published in 1979. Trevanian is one of the pen names of Rodney William Whitaker (1931-2005). He notably wrote The Eiger Sanction. ”In the process of converting this novel into a vapid film, a fine young climber was killed.” (Author’s footnote pg. 167.) His estate authorized the writing of the prequel to this book, SATORI by Don Winslow. (My Satori comments.) “…shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances.” “Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency. In art, …it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, …is spiritual tranquility that is not passive, it is being without the angst of becoming.” “One does not achieve it, one …discovers it.” “…one must pass through knowledge and arrive at simplicity.” (All from pg. 77.) (Pudency.) The book SHIBUMI is the proverbial “…riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…”. (Winston Churchill.) (Proverbial, proverb, epigram, maxim.) I read SATORI (prequel by another author, links above) and my curiosity was significantly aroused to pursue the story in SHIBUMI. In my opinion the cover endorsements on the paperback edition get it wrong about the book. “The only writer of airport paperbacks to be compared to Zola, Ian Fleming, Poe, and Chaucer.” –New York Times. Airport paperbacks?!?! Sounds like a barely polite euphemism for pulp fiction. Writers of all genres (including pulp fiction) should be offended to be categorized as being merely worthy of filling airport shelves with illiterate works for passing travelers. But what do you expect from the New York Times and their singular evaluation of their own self-importance. :) Then there is “It’s hard to imagine a more nearly perfect spy story.” –Milwaukee Journal. What are they smoking, but not reading, up there in Wisconsin? SHIBUMI is barely a spy story at all. I admit after reading SATORI I “expected” a combination espionage/assassin thriller but the actual ‘spy story’, as excellent as it is, probably consumes only 25% or so of the novel. The rest is back (front, and side) story, equally excellent in its own right, but not spy story per se. Herein lies the riddle, mystery, and enigma. I think the book is the author’s philosophical commentary on life and contemporary humanity, much more than just the brief moralizing you may get in many works of fiction. The caricature shell of a spy story is his method of presenting it. In that respect it reminds me slightly of ISLAND by Aldous Huxley, though it doesn’t wax nearly as philosophical as that thin tome. A fictional novel about the game Go is a brief part of the story in Shibumi. ”The book was an elaborate joke in the form of a report and commentary on a fictional master’s game played at the turn of the century.” “…The book was in, in fact, a subtle and eloquent parody of the intellectual parasitism of the critic, and much of the delight lay in the knowledge that both the errors of play and the articulate nonsense of the commentary were so arcane that most readers would nod along in grave agreement.” (Pg 130-131.) Perhaps that is an allusion to SHIBUMI itself. The lead character is a fictional master assassin. There is more intellectual, philosophical critique than I have ever seen in a spy thriller or ‘airport paperback’. I can only speculate what the author’s motives were. The outright philosophical fiction of Ayn Rand not withstanding (Atlas Shrugged, Fountainhead, et al), I have never highlighted so many passages in what I thought was going to be light, pure entertainment, reading. (Ayn Rand on the other hand is neither light nor pure entertainment reading.) Let me present a few passages for you to contemplate, if you will: “America, after all, was populated by the lees and failures of Europe. Recognizing this, we must see them as innocent. As innocent as the adder, as innocent as the jackal. Dangerous and treacherous, but not sinful. You spoke of them as a despicable race. They are not a race. They are not even a culture. They are a cultural stew of the orts and leavings of the European feast. At best, they are a mannered technology. In place of ethics, they have rules. Size functions for them as quality functions for us. What for us is honor and dishonor, for them is winning and losing.” (Pg 103.) [I have sometimes contemplated, in the abysmal abyss of my mind, the lack of tangible heritage many of us WASPs derive from. I admire Jews and American Indians for theirs. As an Indian guide once noted on a tour I did of pueblo ruins, "You have no roots". No grounding, no foundation, no guideposts. Advantage, or disadvantage? Still contemplating.] “You can gain experience, if you are careful to avoid empty redundancy. Do not fall into the error of the artisan who boasts of twenty years experience in craft while in fact he has had only one year of experience–twenty times. And never resent the advantge of experience your elders have. Recall that they have paid for this experience in the coin of life, and have emptied a purse that cannot be refilled.” (Pg 109.) “(He) arrived at a kind of emotional truce with the Americans among whom he worked. This is not to say that he came to like them, or to trust them; but he came to realize that they were not the amoral, depraved people their political and military behavior suggest they were. True, they were culturally immature, brash, and clumsy, materialistic and historically myopic, loud, bold, and endlessly tiresome in social encounters; but at the bottom they were good-hearted and hospitable; willing to share–indeed insistent upon sharing–their wealth and ideology with all the world. Above all, he came to recognize that all Americans were merchants, that the core of the American Genius, of the Yankee Spirit, was buying and selling. They vended their democratic ideology like hucksters, supported by the great protection racket of armaments deals and economic pressures. Their wars were monumental exercises in production and supply. Their government was a series of social contracts. Their education was sold as so much per unit hour. There marriages were emotional deals, the contracts easily broken if one party failed in his debt-servicing. Honor for them consisted in fair trading. And they were not, as they thought, a classless society; they were a one-class society–the mercantile.” (Pg 126-127.) “The Americans seemed to confuse standard of living with quality of life, equal opportunity with institutionalized mediocrity, bravery with courage, machismo with manhood, liberty with freedom, wordiness with articulation, fun with pleasure–in short, all of the misconceptions common to those who assume that justice implies equality for all, rather than equality for equals.” (Pg 137.) “We would all be happier if the Palestinian issue (and the Palestinians with it) would simply disappear. They’re a nasty, ill-disciplined, vicious lot who history happened to put in the position of a symbol of Arab unity.” (Pg 228.) “…and the concept of fair play is totally alien to the mentality of the French, a people who have produced generations of aristocrats, but not a single gentleman; a culture in which the legal substitutes for the fair; a language in which the only word for fair play is the borrowed English.” (Pg 266.) “It’s not Americans I find annoying; it’s Americanism: a social disease of the postindustrial world that must inevitably infect each of the mercantile nations in turn, and is called ‘American’ only because your nation is the most advanced case of the malady… …Its symptoms are a loss of work ethic, a shrinking of inner resources, and a constant need for external stimulation, followed by spiritual decay and moral narcosis. You can recognize the victim by his constant ifforts to get in touch with himself, to believe his spiritual feebleness is an interesting psychological warp, to construe his fleeing from responsibility as evidence that he and his life are uniquely open to new experience.” (Pg 306.) “It is revealing of the American culture that its prototypic hero is the cowboy: an uneducated, boorish, Victorian migrant agricultural worker.” (Pg 341.) …to cite a few. This American-born author certainly has his opinions of his fellow countrymen! All of them are still applicable to todays mores. The role and opinions of “big oil” in the book are equally apropos. (Recall the book was published in 1979, 32 years ago.) In retrospect I’ve revealed practically nothing about the story and will leave it that way. Having a lot of time on my hands at the moment, I inhaled the book in a matter of a few days, which is fast for me. It IS an espionage/assassin thriller, and a very good one, but it does not consume itself with that solely. Don’t expect it to be a Ludlum, Silva, Baldacci, Flynn non-stop action book, though the shell story will not disappoint. The front, back, and side stories (just a little off the top please) are immensely entertaining, and the social/philosophical commentary is priceless. Airport paperbacks. Give.. me.. a.. break.. Tsuru no Sugomori. 28 November 2018: I just read this book for the 2nd time. I will add a few comments and then re-read my own first review of 7 1/2 years ago. This is a crafted book. No, not crafty, though it is that, but crafted. Hand-crafted even. Carefully built and constructed. Like the paperback cover says: "The only writer of airport paperbacks to be compared to Zola, Ian Fleming, Poe, and Chaucer." --New York Times. The book held my interest and intrigue as much or more as the first time. I had earmarked numerous passages on the first read, something I don't do for 'regular' fiction very often, and I re-emphasized or added new earmarks. The philosophical insights into various cultures, including my own superficial, American one, are superb. The book starts with ACTION, as one would expect of what will presumably a spy/assassin thriller. It then segues into a long, calmer middle section, including an extensive part on caving/spelunking. All the loose ends are tidily cleaned up by the end, even though you don't think there will be enough pages left to do so. How an author learns so much about disparate subjects such as language, cultures, and caving, is beyond me. Alas, this author has passed away. Wikipedia enlightens a little bit, but only a little. I still very highly recommend this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian R. Mcdonald

    In the Fall, 1988, issue of the American Go Journal, the late Bob High printed a number of random facts gleaned from a survey of American Go Association membership forms. Among the items was a mention of how members reported having been introduced to the game. According to Bob's list, a significant number first discovered Go by reading Shibumi -- more than from any other book or popular cultural reference [this was, of course, long before Hikaru no Go, the manga and anime that introduced many y In the Fall, 1988, issue of the American Go Journal, the late Bob High printed a number of random facts gleaned from a survey of American Go Association membership forms. Among the items was a mention of how members reported having been introduced to the game. According to Bob's list, a significant number first discovered Go by reading Shibumi -- more than from any other book or popular cultural reference [this was, of course, long before Hikaru no Go, the manga and anime that introduced many younger players to Go]. Shibumi, like many of Trevanian's works, is an espionage thriller. Protagonist Nicholai Hel is the world's most highly paid assassin. The main plot is a fairly commonplace sort for the genre: Arab governments, American oil interests [linked in something called the Mother Company] and elements of Western spy agencies are all working together for nefarious purposes, which require them to kill the members of an Israeli special ops unit. The sole survivor contacts Hel and persuades him to involve himself. Stuff then happens, and more stuff follows, in general spy novel fashion. What makes the book important to Go players lies in Hel's life before he becomes an assassin. Born in Shanghai, he learns go at a young age and is later taught intensively by his mother's lover, a Japanese general who is an excellent player. After the death of Nicholai's mother, the general sends him to live in Japan at the home of a famous go professional, Otake 7-dan. According to the acknowledgements at the front of the book, Otake is based on a real life individual. Biographical parallels would suggest that the model was the great player and teacher Kitani Minoru. For what it is worth, Otake is also the name given to the character based on Kitani in Kawabata's great novel The Master of Go. Hel spends six years living the life of an insei, a student professional. The game of Go is intimately connected to his lifelong pursuit of Shibumi, great refinement underlying commonplace appearances, and authority without domination. Many specific plot elements involve Go; for example, after the war, when the general is imprisoned by the US, he and Hel are able to talk in front of his guards by using Go terms as a code. In addition Hel's entire life revolves around the pursuit if Shibumi and the role of Go in that pursuit. The six chapter titles are all Go terms, meant to create analogies between the events of the plot and stages or aspects of a game of Go: fuseki [opening], sabaki [light, flexible play], seki [standoff], uttegae [sacrifice play], shicho [ladder, a Go term for a type of gradual trap], and tsuru no sugomori ["the cranes are confined to the nest", another sort of trap].

  25. 4 out of 5

    Leftbanker

    I'll have to create a new bookshelf for this one called “guilty pleasures.” I read Shibumi in English many, many years ago and picked it up in Spanish recently from the bargain bin of a great bookstore here in Valencia called Paris-Valencia. I can justify reading absolutely anything in Spanish so I don't feel like a 'tard reading this half-assed spy novel. Anything to improve my Spanish. For some reason the dust jacket has a picture of an ante-bellum southern mansion on the front cover—talk abou I'll have to create a new bookshelf for this one called “guilty pleasures.” I read Shibumi in English many, many years ago and picked it up in Spanish recently from the bargain bin of a great bookstore here in Valencia called Paris-Valencia. I can justify reading absolutely anything in Spanish so I don't feel like a 'tard reading this half-assed spy novel. Anything to improve my Spanish. For some reason the dust jacket has a picture of an ante-bellum southern mansion on the front cover—talk about random. They could have put a photo of just about anything you could imagine and it would have made the same amount of sense (or complete lack of it). The actual plot is pretty weak and the author's constant racist, sexist, and bigoted commentary about the lesser races—whatever the fuck those are—is annoying, but I appreciate what he tries to say with his central character, the assassin Nicholai Hel. For as outrageously silly as the book is at times, he does get the message across that human beings are capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for if we only apply ourselves. Most people are just too lazy or too content with their own mediocrity. Unfortunately, the author doesn't seem to think that just any old homo sapiens is destined for any sort of greatness as his character is “the result of thousands of years of breeding.” Huh? All I have ever seen royalty produce are inbred goofs like Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, and Princess Di. Then there is the Japanese minimalism which shapes the character of the protagonist. I have never particularly admired Japanese culture or values—not that I know much about them. They seem uptight and constipated to my Western way of thinking. I'd much rather look at a ratty patch of weeds than a tortuously-sculpted Japanese garden, but I can appreciate the beauty and comfort of their brand of minimalism—something the protagonist attempts to perfect in his life of Shibumi. This is a personal quest for “effortless perfection” in everything you do. There are a couple of long sections in the book in which the author describes spelunking expeditions—a hard thing to do and keep it interesting. I think he pulled it off rather well. I learned a lot of great vocabulary in Spanish as I read through these portions which may come in handy if I do any mountaineering in Spain.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Shumway

    This book is brilliant. It is a work of genius. It works on so many levels. Most of all, though, the entire book is a brilliant joke. I see from some of the reviews here that many readers are on the receiving end of that joke. A little research on the author will reveal some of his character. "Trevanian" is not only a pen name but a character by a writer (Rod Whitaker) who took on the personas of his pseudonyms like a method actor. The satire is happening on several levels and we're not always su This book is brilliant. It is a work of genius. It works on so many levels. Most of all, though, the entire book is a brilliant joke. I see from some of the reviews here that many readers are on the receiving end of that joke. A little research on the author will reveal some of his character. "Trevanian" is not only a pen name but a character by a writer (Rod Whitaker) who took on the personas of his pseudonyms like a method actor. The satire is happening on several levels and we're not always sure if Trevanian is executing the satire upon the reader or if Rod Whitaker is executing it upon Trevanian. If that sounds a little egghead then don't worry about it - just read and enjoy! If you get it, you'll get it. If not, you're probably just, through no fault of your own, an American *evil grin*. For all that, this book is a very easy and enjoyable read. The exotic foreign locales and situations are beautifully described and the characters are colourful and exciting. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the protagonist, super assassin Nicholai Hel, is ridiculously fun to read about, regardless of any satire attached. He's so suave and sophisticated he makes James Bond look like... well, Daniel Craig. This was definitely one of the most fun books I have read in a long time. I could never have expected a single book to fulfill the escapist spy fantasy while at the same time having so much depth.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    In essence, this is a spy book, but it contains some gems which will stick with you, including spelunking scenes, and the art of understated excellence which compels you to cut all of the rose blossoms from your garden save that one perfect one, so as not to offend your visitors' eyes. Also references the Basque ethnic group, and the board game, Go. What else do you need?

  28. 5 out of 5

    David

    I would like to give this 5 stars, really, I would. But there's so much irritating about Rod Whitaker's perspective that I just wouldn't feel comfortable lending the book that level of personal approval. This book interested me from the start and I even started playing a little badu (badly). When I heard that Whitaker's was racist, misogynist, and just generally disgusting, I thought that this may have been just a product of the time but it's really just a product of his personal revulsion for a I would like to give this 5 stars, really, I would. But there's so much irritating about Rod Whitaker's perspective that I just wouldn't feel comfortable lending the book that level of personal approval. This book interested me from the start and I even started playing a little badu (badly). When I heard that Whitaker's was racist, misogynist, and just generally disgusting, I thought that this may have been just a product of the time but it's really just a product of his personal revulsion for anything not Whitaker. You can tell that he identified with the flawless Hel. Whitaker's pedestrian attitude toward other cultures emerges to that point of satire. By the way, I'd love to see a body count in this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Card

    excellent thriller. Hel can kill you with anything, Trevanian is in top form with this one. dare not miss it. from the cherry blossoms of Japan to dark caves to the mists for the final showdown... I go back and re read this evry once and a while and always come away loving it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Leon Aldrich

    Recommended by a friend back in 1982 -- this was one novel I pickup and read again every few years. For those that love Robert Ludlum's, "Jason Bourne" character, Nicholai Hel will captivate you for years to come.

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