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Shibumi: A Novel Paperback – May 10, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (May 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400098033
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400098033
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (253 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“One hell of a pleasure to read.” —Washington Post

“It’s hard to imagine a more nearly perfect spy story.” —Milwaukee Journal

From the Inside Flap

A westerner raised in Japan, he survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world's most artful lover and its most accomplished assassin. His greatest desire is to attain a state of effortless perfection . . . shibumi. But he is about to face his most sinister and corrupt enemy -- a supermonolith of espionage and monopoly bent on destroying
him. . . .

From the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Characters were well developed.
His technical skill in the craft well exceeds many leading 'thriller' writers of today.
C. Middleton
I have read this book 2 years ago hasardously.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

156 of 165 people found the following review helpful By C. Middleton on October 8, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
When this novel was first published in 1979, the leading critics had a difficult time classifying the work. It wasn't exactly an espionage thriller or an epic, but it seemed to touch upon many genres and themes. ~Shibumi~ is a fictional biography more than anything else, for its central character, Nicholai Hel, is the tale's main concern. A minor character in the story sums up the protagonist superbly at the end of the book by calling him half saintly ascetic, half Vandal marauder - a medieval anti-hero. Nicholai Hel is your vintage 'man-against-the establishment' with a mind like a steel trap and the tastes and lifestyle of an 18th century aristocrat. His pedigree is a throw back to the German/Russian elite, where generations of breeding and culture have contributed to his unusual character. Nicholai is a man without a country, a natural mystic, philosopher, linguist, master of Go, a complex Japanese board game of high strategy, and most importantly, a self trained assassin for hire who is expert in the arts of naked/kill. More than this, he is a seeker of spiritual perfection, his ultimate goal being that hard to define state or condition known as Shibumi.
Trevanian (Rodney Whitaker) is a first rate writer. His technical skill in the craft well exceeds many leading 'thriller' writers of today. When one reads about the art of naked/kill, the mystical states of Nicholai Hel, or even the machinations of the CIA and their unscrupulous methods for creating and combating terror, one gets the distinct impression that the author knows exactly what he's talking about and must have access to some kind of inside information. His writing is almost too believable.
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70 of 75 people found the following review helpful By "gmwerner" on July 22, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I had never intended to add my own review to the (mostly excellent) list of reviews already submitted regarding this masterpiece. I have read Shibumi many times over the past several years; I keep coming back to it for the beautifully crafted and evocative descriptions, the witty dialogue, and the succinct, yet poignant philosophical insights. There's not much for me to add that hasn't already been said, but I feel compelled to answer this book's critics from Oceanside and elsewhere:
Query: Nicholai Hel as the stereotypic hero of the mass-market thriller novel genre? He who eschews electricity and other modern conveniences, who views his automobile as a necessary evil, and whose primary pleasures in life are meditation and continuing devotion to the improvement of a garden he knows will never be perfect?
No, I don't think critics of this book are turned off by the fact that Hel is identical to every other action hero they've encountered. I suspect that the real animosity comes from the fact that Trevanian's criticisms of contemporary society hit a little too close to the mark. Let me state for the record that I am an American and readily acknowledge myself to be guilty of some of the afflictions of contemporary American society that Trevanian elucidates. But critics of this book, such as those from Oceanside, remind me of the passage early in Shibumi where Otake-san reminds young Nicholai that the modern novellist will not dare create a truly superior hero, because "in his rage of shame the (modern man) will send his yojimbo, the critic" to defend him.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By TheOriginalH on February 23, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Looking through a few of the reviews here, I felt compelled to make a few comments.

On the subject of Shibumi, it is not portrayed as a "spaced out" state of mind as some have alluded (that was reserved for the portrayal of "mysticism"). It is an intangible quality which someone of a certain way of life possesses.

I believe that while certain parts of the book appear to lean toward bigotry, they are valuable in that they both reflect common attitudes at the time of writing and in many cases cleverly parody these.

The lack of focus, the abstractness the constant metaphors and reflections are precisely what the book is about to me, charging full on down a track of "building satisfying plot" would miss part of (my perceived) point of the book.

The opening chapter reads like a crappy spy novel. Don't be put off by it. I returned to the book recently having not read it for many years and almost put it back down, assuming my fondness for it must have developed when my reading habits were less refined. I'm glad I persevered. This book definitely makes my top 5 :)
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Dark Mechanicus JSG on October 16, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Nicolai Hel: Master Assassin, Philosopher, modern day Samurai, spelunker, expert Lover, Warrior. Man.

Let me repeat that: Man. I discovered Trevanian and "Shibumi" in high school, and I must confess that it completely changed my life. I vowed to live my life as Nicolai Hel would have, had he been a teen-ager in Utah in the 1980's. Happily, it worked out.

Trevanian concocted this wildly wicked, politically pungent, nastily anti-PC rattling tale of assassination, global conspiracy, New World Order, CIA incompetence, and global capitalist corruption in the 1980's, but it remains a masterwork of espionage fiction and a blueprint for Samurai living even in these dark and mediocre times. Frankly, it is a road-map for becoming a Man.

Protagonist Hannah Stern, a Jewish American activist nearly slaughtered by Arab terrorists in an assassination strike in the Rome airport, seeks aid and comfort from the reclusive Nicolai Hel, now rusticating with his exquisite Oriental lover in a chateau high the Pyrenees, secluded among his Basque supporters, stolid in his Japanese Shinto meditation. Hel hates the mindless activity of squalid bourgeois society, batters his Volvo with rocks, enjoys the philosophical freedom of his Japanese garden and meditational lodge---and is nonetheless pulled into a war of wits, blood, and steel with the CIA and the amorphous but all-consuming "Mother Company".

"Shibumi" is rebellious, cynical, heroic, delicious. Hel, son of a doomed Russian countess, learns quickly from his mentor, a Japanese General presiding over the rape of Nanking. He becomes a Master Assassin, making his fortune from the misery he deservedly inflicts on others that would make the world of Man a galactic Hell.
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