Don Winslow’s SATORI

I was so excited to get an advanced copy of this book and had no idea what I was going to get from a Don Winslow written prequel of the 1979 thriller SHIBUMI by Trevanian. What I got was easily Winslow’s best book since THE POWER OF THE DOG. This is saying something because THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE, THE DAWN PATROL and SAVAGES have all been fantastic books too but SATORI, like THE POWER OF THE DOG is in Winslow’s epic league.

Winslow is a truly amazing writer and I still can’t believe he isn’t a mega-bestseller. To be able to go from the frenetic pacing of SAVAGES to the understated almost serene pace of SATORI blows me way. Winslow’s last three books have all been set in Southern California and have a very jazzy, laid-back but fast-paced beat. SATORI is set in South-East Asia and Winslow’ style reflects are more serene, inward-looking, eastern pacing. SAVAGES was all about characters jumping into situations and making rash, heat-of-the-moment decisions where SATORI is very philosophical, strategic and patient.

The other major difference for Winslow in SATORI is that this is a spy thriller. Not that any of Winslow’s other books fit neatly into any other crime category but this is probably the closest a Winslow book has come to a traditional crime category. And if you love spy thrillers Winslow will of course blow you away. Like any good spy thriller this is packed full of political intrigue, double agents and beautiful women but in Winslow’s hands it is all on another level of brilliance.

Set in the 1950s the protagonist of the novel is Nicholai Hel. Born to Russian parents, raised in Shanghai and steeped in Japanese culture, Nicholai is coerced by the Americans to assassinate a Russian diplomat in Beijing. But it is not clear who is working for who and Nicholai soon becomes tangled in drug and arms deals with links to the beginnings of an increasingly more complicated conflict in Vietnam between the French and the Viet Minh.

I have just started reading Trevanian’s SHIBUMI. While Winslow hasn’t imitated Trevanian’s style the two books do fit seamlessly together which in itself is amazing.

SATORI is the book Winslow fans have all been waiting for and the book non-fans need to read to become one!

Check out my video review here


The start of SHIBUMI is very dated. The CIA super computer that is relied upon is ridiculously out-of-date. However when the story moves to Nicholai’s back story, before SATORI, it is brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed it until….the story caught back up with the book’s present day and became too silly to keep on reading.

The moral of the story is read SATORI and forget SHIBUMI

12 thoughts on “Don Winslow’s SATORI

  1. To tell the readers to ignore Shibumi does a major disservice to literature. Shibumi is set at a different time than now, and true readers understand that – you sir, do not. Shibumi is a top-notch story which is WHY Don chose to prequel it. Satori would not exist if it were not for Rodney Whitaker (Trevanian) conceiving the character.

    1. I really enjoyed the extra backstory of Nicholai and reading Shibumi showed just how much Don Winslow nailed the tone and style in Satori but Shibumi lost me when it started talking about a CIA super computer that is so out of date it’s laughable. Yes there would be no Satori without Shibumi but Satori is a superior book and I think readers should check out Satori first otherwise Shibumi might put them off

    2. Oh, man…I very much agree with you, Rob. Shibumi is and always has been, one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I do not know anyone – until now – who doesn’t respect Trevanian’s masterwork for the classic it is. I am puzzled that the reviewer would partially cast away a book due to a “laughably outdated computer.” With that logic, if it wasn’t written within the last year or so, any book would be outdated. I get it, though. Hard for some to slip into a world so close yet so far from the now. I find some of my favorite movies have become dated and a bit jarring. Still, when it comes to Shibumi, there’s no dissing of Shibumi! Ever. Not done, not cool. Sorry, one of those rare, “don’t do it,” man. That said, I am looking forward to Satori!

  2. I too do not know how you could dismiss Shibumi on the basis of being dated! I reread Shibumi almost yearly while on vacation and am amazed at how it still parallels our current issues! Satori was a great book though, fingers crossed for more from Winslow!

    1. Again, agree, Brandon! Finished Satori right after my initial post and was quite happy with Winslow’s work. Not quite in the league of Trevanian, but a solid, worthwhile effort. Hope he does more! I heard that DiCaprio is playing the lead in the Satori movie. After some thought, I’m OK with that. Let’s see how Winslow’s Savages does at the box office; that could make a difference on a Satori movie. Overall, I’m happy to see Shibumi being read for the first time – a good thing!

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