Two books, two authors but one protagonist — Nicholai Hel. Read them both to find out what makes Hel the most revered assassin in the fictional world. P. PRASANNA
Shibumi is a novel written in English by Trevanian, a pseudonym of Rodney William Whitaker. The novel was published in the year 1979 and tasted instant success and also made the readers to follow closely the other works of Trevanian, post-Shibumi.
It is mainly because the author created a hero, called Nicholai Hel whose talent hav no bounds. He is not a super hero, but is packed with extra ordinary skills.
The novel is set during World War -II and the events following that are what the whole novel is all about. Nicholai Hel is an assassin so lethal that he could kill a bunch of terrorists with a comb and can dispatch some of the most dangerous men with just a drinking straw.
Hel is born to an exiled Russian Countess and raised by a Japanese General. The Japanese General identifies the exceptional talent hidden in him and sends him to Japan to learn the games called “Go” and “Shibumi”. After training under tough conditions, Hel learns the art of naked skill, a material discipline that helps people to use ordinary items to kill.
After Japan surrenders in 1945, he is left alone and when he learns that the Japanese general is captured and tortured by the Russians, Hel plans a mission to help him escape from the clutches of these merciless people by killing. Hel then faces imprisonment and finally escapes and since Hel is a poly got, he has been given a job of an interpreter in the U.S. Using this opportunity, Hel tries to find out the people who tortured him, which turns out to be one of the dangerous assassins.
Meanwhile, like in many of the spy novels, Trevanian too mentions about an evil ‘Mother’ company and its confrontation with Hel, and as a matter of fact the whole of the story picks its pace gradually from here on. The relation with Hel and an evil “Mother Company”, and Hel’s sudden retirement forms the rest of the story.
Overall, the novelist’s genuine attempt to create an impeccable character does not go in vain. In fact, the novelist is mostly remembered for “the” admirable character he created.
Satori, written by the American novelist Don Winslow is a recently written prequel to Shibumi written by Trevanian. Nicholai Hel has returned to surprise the readers yet again but this time it is through the creative genius of Don Winslow. Trevanian has nothing to do with this prequel; it is Winslow’s extensive reading and adoration towards Trevanian that made him come with a novel that takes us back to the times when Shibumi was released.
Satori, written by Don Winslow explores the character of Nicholai Hel, with much respect to content and style. Winslow traces the life of Hel back in the prisons of America. Trevanian in his novel had talked so much about the life of his protagonist but leaves the evolution of Hel as the most skilled assassin to the imagination of the readers.
Winslow uses this fiction to fill in the gaps, and sparks up a new element of twist in the plot and takes it forward to the next level by bringing a whole new novel for the readers. The novel talks about Hel’s life from post-war Japan to Maoist China and finally French-ruled Saigon. Satori follows Hel’s quest for revenge and allows readers to understand the struggles and tortures he faced during the years in America.
By reading the novel, one can make out that Don Winslow is a true fan of Shibumi and, as a matter of fact, he has made sure that he has stayed true to Trevanian’s creation to mimicking his style.
The novel paces steadily from the first half where it follows Hel into China through South East Asia and into Saigon. There is a wonderful cast of characters in this book and Winslow’s writing will surely have the reader engrossed right from the first to the last page.
Prasanna is a M.A. student at Loyola College.
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