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Shibumi (Nicholai Hel #1)

4.23  ·  Rating Details ·  9,007 Ratings  ·  615 Reviews
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. . . .
Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Published February 12th 1983 by Ballantine Books (first published 1979)
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Simon Stanton I read Shibumi years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, and then read it several more times. I'm not sure if Shibumi is a genuine concept in…moreI read Shibumi years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, and then read it several more times. I'm not sure if Shibumi is a genuine concept in Japanese culture, but it is plausible, and it made a deep impression on me. The story, I found, was well written and engaging, and the characters were intriguing.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 30, 2012 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies
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
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
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
Apr 07, 2007 Michael rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: perversely...everyone
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
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
Aug 20, 2015 Lyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mike (the Paladin)
Mar 25, 2015 Mike (the Paladin) rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
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
May 14, 2012 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Russian go-playing assassins with bottle-green eyes and 4th level lovemaking abilities
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
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
Sep 19, 2008 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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-t
Apr 23, 2007 Jacob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: spy novel fans
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.
Bilge B
Oct 25, 2016 Bilge B rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, novel, readathons
Daha önce okuduğum hiçbir kitaba benzemiyordu kurgu düzeni o yüzden çok farklı geldi. Biraz daha ilgi çekici bir şekilde yazılabilirdi diye düşünüyorum ama karakterlerin her zaman okuduğum tiplemelerden farklı olmasına bayıldım.
May 25, 2016 Perihan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Şibumi önceden merakla okuduğum kitaplardan biriydi.

İlk bölümlerde bu adamlar kim, Munih Beşlisi, Kara Eylülcüler kimler, kimin peşindeler anlamaya çalışırken açıkcası biraz sıkılmıştım, ama sonra kitap bir açıldı bir aktı, elimden bırakamamıştım. Hele o son bölümdeki eşsiz hayatta kalma mücadelesini soluksuz okumuştum.

Kitaptaki Nicholai karakterini, Satranç kitabındaki Dr. B'ye çok benzetmiştim. İkisinin de ortak yönleri çoktu, her ikisinin de başına gelenler çok benzerdi , her ikisi de karizma
Tim Hainley
Apr 25, 2008 Tim Hainley rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 17, 2016 Rod rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recall seeing Shibumi on paperback stands when I was in elementary 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, inte ...more
Marius van Blerck
Jun 19, 2009 Marius van Blerck rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sono capitato su questo libro solo perché ho voglia di leggere ‘Satori’ di Don Winslow e ho scoperto che sono collegati: credendolo un sequel, ho letto ‘Shibumi’. Poi, ho capito che ‘Satori’ è il prequel di ‘Shibumi’ e quindi questa inutile lettura potevo evitarmela. Sigh.

Tante pagine per raccontare una storia molto datata che avrebbe bisogno di molte meno pagine.
Ma soprattutto avrebbe bisogno di una mano di scrittore meno banale, meno mediocre.
Più volte (in realtà
Dec 07, 2011 Austin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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 ...more
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
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.
Apr 03, 2011 Elif rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice read.
May 12, 2011 Johnrh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 14, 2007 Shawn rated it really liked it
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?
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 ...more
May 27, 2014 Baymavi rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
trevenian mahlasini kullanan yazar her kimdiyse her seyi yanlis anlamis, humanizmi de, dinginlik halini de, asaleti de, cinselligi de, kultur farkini da her seyi ama herseyi yanlis anlamis.

Sibumi romani, oglanci, mikropenisli, etnik bir espri olan aptal araplarla, nedense herhangi bir sifatla tanimlanmamis olan israilliler arasindaki kavganin, enerji kaynaklarinin, hukumetlerin ve akla gelebilecek her seyin dolayisiyla da tum dunyanin kontrolunu elinde tutan zenginlere sorun cikarmasindan kaynak
Feb 20, 2014 Tevfik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kitabın ilk yarısını Trevenian, diğer yarısını bir başkası yazmış gibi.

İlk yarısı enfes... Edebi bir şaheser. Her bir cümle, her bir anlatım kayda değer. Hele çiçekli bir yolda yürüme sahnesi var ki, orada geçen diyalogların her bir kesiti için saatlerce düşünmeye değer. Kulağıma küpe olsun ve hayat boyu hatırlayayım diye yaptığım alıntılar vardır.

Öte yandan, kitabın kalan yarısı ise ucuz ve ikinci sınıf bir Hollywood filmine dönüşüyor...

Sadece o ilk yarısı için beş yıldızı hakediyor benden.
Aug 24, 2008 Card rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Gordon Shumway
Mar 03, 2013 Gordon Shumway rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Acabado Shibumi, de Trevanian. Pse, pse, no sé qué deciros. Pintaba mucho mejor de lo que ha acabado siendo.
Va de un chaval europeo con educación oriental/japonesa entre Shangai y Tokio que se supone se acaba convirtiendo en un asesino de terroristas pero con ética mística.

Lo bueno : el planteamiento inicial y el arranque en sí de la novela.
Lo malo : es del 76 y ha envejecido mal. El protagonista vive en un castillo en el país vasco-francés y he tenido que leer descripciones romántico-ridículas
Apr 19, 2010 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Charles by:
This book can be read as action and/or farce. Reminds me of the Matt Helm stories. The protagonist is shaped through a series of events that leave deep furrows along his path toward maturity: a multicultural childhood, the brutality of war, the development of an artistic desire via a board game called "Go" and the garden in which he finds first love, the strong discipline of a Japanese general officer and guidance of a Go master, brutal treatment at the hands of CIA agents, years of solitary con ...more
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"Trevanian" was the pen name of American author Dr. Rodney William Whitaker (12 June 1931-14 Dec 2005). He wrote in a wide variety of genres, achieved best-seller status, and published under several names, of which the best known was Trevanian. From 1972 to 1983, five of his novels sold more than a million copies each. He was described as "the only writer of airport paperbacks to be compared to Zo ...more
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“Irony is Fate's most common figure of speech.” 84 likes
“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.” 49 likes
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