Book Review: Shibumi by Trevanian

Book Review: Shibumi by TrevanianRating4/5 teacups


“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.”



I read this book because it was pictured in the first John Wick. As it’s my favorite movie, and I love reading books that are featured in movies, I had to give this one a go. And it had the famous “kill someone with a pencil” scene, though it certainly wasn’t what I expected.

Deep writing.
First off, this is an extremely heavy book. It’s one of those books that you read for a while and think you read a ton of the book, but in reality it was only a few pages. It was complex writing and complex themes. It was covering a lot of Japanese philosophical ideas. It’s hard enough as it is philosophical but then they are trying to put words to things that are indescribable. It was interesting to see Trevanian to try and tackle this obstacle. And it hurt my brain to read. But it was interesting and I loved the challenge.

Lots of traveling.
The book is set in all of these different locations and it jumps around, but with a logical aspect. It also breaks up the chapters by locations. So it will jump between Hel and where he is and what he is doing, sometimes in the past, and then go to Washington, D.C. where the government people are and eventually everyone comes together.

Killing with a pencil is the turning point.
So this is totally not important, but this is one of the reasons I was curious about the book. John Wick is known for killing people with a pencil. That is his signature movie and that idea was taken from this book. So I just had to find out where it came from. And the killing with the pencil was the turning point which changed everything in Hel’s life. This book was not graphic with the violence, it would touch on what was happening but mostly leave it there…save for the opening scene where there was a little carnage. But it was in moderation.

The sex was something new and rare.
So there was sex in the book. But it wasn’t incredibly graphic as you would think, and it was completely in moderation and well proportioned. It was a lot of mind games. The lover in Hel’s life was technically a concubine and she was there to help him out around the house and in life. But she was well trained. Hel was able to play mind games with people and so their sexual adventures sometimes didn’t even involve touching. And even then, the descriptions were simple and restrained, keeping with the theme of the book.

Supernatural abilities?
As I was talking about just above, Hel seemed to have these mental abilities. It wasn’t supernatural exactly but it was a heightened state of mind, probably from all the meditation that he had done while in Japan. It was a little strange to read about as you had this other worldly feel to him, that he was just slightly higher than other humans, but it was an interesting touch, one that I think definitely added to the story.

Overall I loved the book. I would have given it a 5 out of 5 teacups but I didn’t because some of the philosophical ideas, while they were interesting to read, took up a lot of the book and I know that many people really wouldn’t like them. While I thought it was interesting, it was a strange balance between the simplicity of the story and then these really deep ideas. That’s the only reason I would give it a 4/5 rating. But I highly recommend the book as it was fantastic!

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