shibumi (渋み) (noun)
A particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.

Shibumi means 'Effortless Perfection'. Shibumi is anything that is quiet in refinement, noble and fulfilling in a manner that is not shaped exclusively by analytical thought.

The novel Shibumi, by Trevanian (the pen name for Rodney William Whitaker), is a novel published in 1979 about an assassin named Nicholai Hel. Hel, born in Shanghai to a Russian aristocrat mother and an unknown German father, he becomes the protégé of a Japanese general during the occupation in World War Two. The general, who is a Go master, teaches Hel the way of Shibumi through the game of Go. As the war draws to a close, the general takes the boy and his mother to Japan, where they survive Hiroshima. When the general is imprisoned by the occupation force of the United States to be tried for war crimes, Hel goes to visit him and assassinates the general with a pencil, using the art of 'naked kill'. The United States arrests him, then discovers his ability to speak multiple languages, including Russian, Chinese, and Japanese. He is hired by the CIA, newly formed from the OSS. Thus begins his career is one of the world's most preeminent assassins.

In the 1970s, having retired to the Basque region in France where he engages in world class spelunking, building a mansion in the Japanese architectural style, and engaging in the effortless perfection of 'shibumi' with his exquisite, exotic mistress, he is drawn into a war with a sinister enemy - an international espionage group beholden to the the world wide energy consortium - by a beautiful young stranger seeking his help. It soon becomes clear to Hel he is facing his most dangerous challenge against a ruthless and powerful enemy, with unlimited resources. And he has only his skills and his sense of Shibumi.

The story is slow to start, a flashback to Nicholia's youth in Shanghai. Once the story moves into the present, the pace picks up considerably, starting with young woman who comes to Hel for help, and ends up being assassinated under Hel's care. The rest of the story is told at a gripping pace, with heartbreak for the protagonist. You'll have to read this to see if he also is victorious.


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