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(Nicholai Hel #1)

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  13,709 ratings  ·  907 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published May 10th 2005 by Broadway Books (first published 1979)
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Brick Moon They made the author's first book into a movie with Clint Eastwood and the author hated it. So he wouldn't give up the rights to this - oh. Someone el…moreThey made the author's first book into a movie with Clint Eastwood and the author hated it. So he wouldn't give up the rights to this - oh. Someone else has already answered this. Ah well. There's also a scene in this book that takes place completely in the dark and I almost wondered if Trevanian deliberately tried to make this unfilmable. (less)
René Sadae Yes, Shibumi is a genuine concept; a part of Zen within Japanese culture. As I read this book too many years ago, my recollection is poor, and wish to…moreYes, Shibumi is a genuine concept; a part of Zen within Japanese culture. As I read this book too many years ago, my recollection is poor, and wish to read it again. I do think the novel might have made it seem more of a tangible way of thinking, believing, reaching that one can strive for, when it actually is a beautifully simple understanding one might be able to see by way of knowledge come to through unplanned challenges. However, western culture, western language, and western attitudes are difficult tools to use in defining eastern concepts, especially of Zen or Buddha nature. Certainly this book would make for a good book club read.(less)
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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 ·  13,709 ratings  ·  907 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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 rated it did not like it
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
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
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
Manuel Antão
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
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
Mike (the Paladin)
Mar 25, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
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
May 14, 2012 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
Sep 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
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'
David Lucero
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 23, 2007 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.
Tim Hainley
Apr 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Marius van Blerck
Jun 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Benoit Lelièvre
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 12, 2011 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
Rosalind Hartmann
Jun 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
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:
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
Dec 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
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 ...more
Gordon Shumway
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Nov 14, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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?
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.
Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
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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.” 89 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.” 55 likes
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