I remembered this book at for the seventies, but as it wasn't copyrighted until 1979 it barely escaped being part of the eighties. That was a daring escape from mediocrity for a book that was itself a daring escape from mediocrity. When I started reading it it seemed like a genre CIA thriller, but as it unfolded it was much better than that, and defied genre. Recently I mentioned to Karen, who was in a seminar with me, that I was re-reading it, and to my surprise she mentioned that she had read it back when it was published.

This should have been no surprise as it was a best seller, but I had remembered it was more a man's action adventure novel, so that it would have been like me recalling that I had read a genre romance. The only time I remember reading a genre romance was on the island of Crete, with the woman I was then married to. We read passages aloud and howled with laughter at Rudy's gold flecked eyes. I remembered Shibumi as being about an assassin who could kill with ordinary objects, like a credit card, and who patterned his life on the board game, Go. It is Japanese, and more complex than chess.

Karen remembered a scene between the assassin and his concubine, and the details of a sensual encounter. I had no memory of that part, or at least no conscious memory. On re-reading the novel I found the scenes with Hana interesting, again, not because of the author's skill in creating the character, but in the author's observations made through the characters.

Now I have both sides of the story. I am at the end of the book, and as with some other novels (Lonesome Dove, for example), there is an anticipation of loss, because I've become involved with the characters. With Hel, the main character in Shibumi, it is the conceptualization of the character as both highly moral and the world's premier professional assassin which makes him compelling. It's just what the doctor ordered for a man who needs to read a good book:

"Aunts and cousins, buy the baker's dozens, drives a man to sea or highway robbery."

This is a reading from pages 365-66 (Shibumi, by Trevanian ©1979)

Posted: Mon - August 10, 2009 at 05:57 PM