July 15th, 2012


Book Review: Shibumi, by Trevanian

A literary thriller with extra stinky cheese, taking the piss out of Americans with a Russian/Japanese/Basque ninja-sex-master.


Crown Publishing, 1979, 480 pages

Nicholai Hel, born in the ravages of World War I China to an aristocratic Russian mother and a mysterious German father, raised in the spiritual gardens of a Japanese Go Master, survives the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world's most artful lover and its most accomplished and highly paid assassin. Genius, mystic, master of language and culture, Hel's secret is his determination to attain a rare kind of personal excellence, a state of effortless perfection: shibumi.

Now living in an isolated mountain fortress with his magnificent Eurasian mistress, Hel faces his most sinister enemy, a super-monolith of espionage and monopoly. The battle lines are drawn: ruthless power and corruption on one side and on the other, shibumi.

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Verdict: Shibumi is a very well-written needle-sharp satire. It's about an amoral go-playing Mighty Whitey superhero who's better at being Japanese than the Japanese, filled with heaping dollops of racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes, and written with the plot of a Clint Eastwood movie and the prose of someone who might have aspired to something better except he didn't think his audience deserved it. Highly recommended as a fun read, as a slightly deeper read if you care to parse the author's meta, and as an offensively dated read if you take it at face value.

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