Friday, 30 August 2013


Title: HHhH
Author: Laurent Binet
Translator: Sam Taylor
Pages: 384
Published: May 23rd 2012 (first published 2010)
Published by: Harvill Secker

Everyone has heard of Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague.” And most have heard stories of his spectacular assassination at the hands of two Czechoslovakian partisans. But who exactly were the forgotten heroes who killed one of history’s most notorious men? In Laurent Binet’s captivating debut novel, HHhH (Himmlers Hirn heiBt Heydrich, or Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich), we follow the lives of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš, the Slovak and the Czech responsible for Heydrich’s death. From their heroic escape from Nazi-occupied Prague to their recruitment by the British secret services; from their meticulous preparation and training to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone; from their stealth attack on Heydrich’s car to their own brutal deaths in the basement of a Prague church, Binet narrates the compelling story of these two incredible men, rescuing their heroic acts from obscurity. The winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, Binet’s HHhH is a novel unlike anything else. A seemingly effortless blend of historical truth, personal memory, and Binet’s remarkable imagination, HHhH is a work at once thrilling and deeply engrossing—a historical novel and a profound meditation on the nature of writing and the debt we owe to history.

HHhH - Himmler's Hirn heisst Heydrich - Himmler's brain is called Heydrich

This book accounts the run-up-to and assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, including his rise through the Nazi party and the movements of his killers in the days and months preceding his death. Unfortunately, there are quite regular insertions by the author about the research he is doing, the things he has come across and even random asides from his personal life. It was these sections that negatively affected my opinion of this book. It broke the flow of the reason I was reading the book and while it well served to show the passion of Binet on this subject, for me that came through enough in the level of detail in regards to the historical events without him needing to constantly show it in other ways.

Without a doubt this is a well researched book and Binet doesn't include anything without being able to verify it as fact. Or rather, the times he does invent details or conversations he tells us about it. This is good in terms of accuracy, but not quite what I was expecting (though re-reading the blurb, maybe should have been), expecting something more like Schindler's List where the events are expanded upon with likely conversations. Two different approaches, each with their benefits. On the flip side, it does mean we are party to a short chapter on a comment made about the inclusion of an imagined detail. This comment made him remove a certain phrase, then search for something to replace it, and eventually put it back in. I've never felt the need to know anything about an author's personal editing process before. And in all honesty I could have lived perfectly without it this time.

Things like this aside, I found Binet's writing easy to read, something that can be difficult when it comes to subjects like this. Yes, there isn't mass-murder on every page or anything like that, but because of this it isn't exactly the most scintillating of things to read at times, but I never felt bored by what was going on or anything. There are also the random asides - not about himself - about other things that went on during the period covered. Most of them are at least vaguely related, but sometimes wonderful little stories make their way into the book simply because they're wonderful. Which is pretty heart-warming.

An interesting read for those who want to find out more about the life and death of the Butcher of Prague and those who killed him.

And suffered the reprisals.

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