SATORI by Don Winslow

Book Quote:

“It might come in a drop of rain,” Xue Xin continued, ignoring the question, “a note from a faraway flute, the fall of a leaf. Of course, you have to be ready for it or it will pass unnoticed. But if you are ready, and your eyes are open, you will see it and suddenly understand everything. Then you will know who you are and what you must do.”


Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (MAR 07, 2011)

Satori, by Don Winslow, is a prequel to the best-selling thriller, Shibumi, by Trevanian. Trevanian introduced the world to Nicholai Hel, master of hodo korusu, “the naked kill.”  Hel speaks six languages, is a master of the game “Go,” and has a special proximity sense – the ability to detect when any person or thing is nearby. As Satori opens in 1951, the Korean war is in full swing and the Americans have had Nicholai in solitary confinement for three years for the honor killing of his beloved stepfather, General Kishikawa. General Kishikawa, sentenced to a public execution, loved and raised Nicholai, teaching him “Go.” Rather than let him die that way, Nicholai killed him himself.

While in jail, Nicholai was brutally tortured, physically and pharmaceutically by a CIA agent named Diamond. Out of the blue, a CIA agent who is a colleague of Diamond’s approaches Nicholai with an offer. The United States will give him $100,000 and a passport if he will kill Yuri Veroshenin, the Soviet Commissioner to Red China. The CIA’s reason for wanting Veroshenin killed is to put a wedge between Beijing and China. Nicholai takes the offer but he has other agendas – he wants to get even with Diamond and he hates Veroshenin who once forced his mother into a lurid affair so that she could survive.

A plan is put in place for Nicholai to kill Veroshenin with the CIA’s assistance. It is more like a suicide mission for Nicholai than anything else. His odds of surviving are about 1%. Before the mission begins, however, Nicholai must get a new face. He has been so savagely beaten while in jail that his face is a mess. He is sent to a plastic surgeon and then to France where he is to learn the language nuances and mannerisms of the identity he is to take, that of Michel Guibert, an arms dealer. In France, he is taught appropriate southern French by a beautiful woman named Solange, an ex-prostitute, who also teaches him about his adopted background and life in Montpellier where he is supposedly from. They fall in love but Nicholai must leave to begin his mission. He promises to return to her.

Before the mission begins there is an attempt on Nicholai’s life in France by two men from China but Nicholai manages to kill both of them. Nicholai heads off to China and the action revs up. There are arms deals, crosses, double crosses, and no one knows who to believe about what. Nicholai does manage to kill Veroshenin but he is shot in the leg and the CIA’s extraction team fails to show up. Instead, Nicholai’s life is saved at the very last minute by a mysterious group of monks who take him somewhere secret to heal and where he searches for satori, “true understanding and harmony with the world.”

Nicholai is trying to figure out who is after him and why. It seems like everyone has a reason. The cold war is blasting, Vietnam is a hotbed of strife and the different communist nations are not at peace with one another. Nicholai heads to Hanoi where he sets up his own arms deal and is followed by the CIA.

There is a wonderful cast of characters in this book, many kinky, quirky and mean. Winslow knows his geography and history and it comes through clearly, though at times a little too detailed for my preference. Readers know that Nicholai can survive all that this book throws at him because he is alive and well when Shibumi starts. He relies on his skill with Go to navigate the subtle feints and misdirections he is faced with and figure out each of his moves. Go is a game said to be much more complicated than chess; Nicholai is very good at it.

This is a thriller to end thrillers. At times I got lost trying to figure out who was after who and why, but mostly it was fascinating and fun.  Winslow’s writing kept me turning pages through the night and he is at the top of his game with this novel.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 7 readers
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing (March 7, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Note from Don Winslow and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


The Winter of Frankie Machine

The Dawn Patrol

California Fire and Life

Our review of a couple Trevanian novels:

Incident at Twenty-Mile


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Movies from Books:

March 7, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: China, Japan, Korea, Thriller/Spy/Caper, y Award Winning Author

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