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Originally published 1979. Re-issued by Crown Publishers, NY, May 2005 trade paper edition in a matched set of 5 Trevanian titles
Nicolai Hell was born in the turbulent China of the First World War, of an aristocratic mother and a mysterious German father, and educated in the spiritual gardens of a Japanese Go master. Surviving the destruction of Hiroshima he appears as the world's most consumate and artistic lover - though better paid as an assassin. Genius, mystic, master of cultures and languages, Hel's secret is his determination to reach that rare personal purity and state of perfection known as Shibumi. Living in an isolated mountain stronghold with a beautiful Asian companion, he meets his most sinister enemy, a vast monolithic spy organisation. The battle lines are drawn: merciless power and corruption on one side, and on the other...
Originally published in 1979, Shibumi has made the greatest impact among Trevanian fans and remains today his most revered novel.
In his own words
Trevanian, (answering written questions from Judy Quinn of Publisher's Weekly, in 1998) said about it. I was still obliged to give my publisher another book. Another "Trevanian" book. I swallowed this bitter pill and decided I would indeed write another book within the super-spy genre, but although it would be published under the name Trevanian, it would be written by an altogether different persona. Like The Main before it, and like the books that were to follow, this would be a real novel hidden within a popular genre.
I dug back into my youth in Japan and worked up a writer for Shibumi, a book just barely within the conventions of the slam-bang super-spy, but one that offered the reader a virile style of excellence that had nothing to do with force, braggadocio, or violence. It blended a good yarn with a life-philosophy, and was an instant international success. After this book — a bestseller all around the world, even in such languages as Finnish, Hebrew, Turkish and Polish — I had abandoned the super-spy genre. After the definitive exercise of the genre that was Shibumi, there was no point in me writing further in this genre … or anyone else, for that matter.