HHhH: A Novel by Laurent Binet

4/5 stars

Binet’s “novel” describes the events leading up to, or simply happening simultaneously, with Operation Anthropoid: the attempted assassination of high-ranking Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich. If you’re not familiar with the history surrounding Heydrich or the executors of Operation Anthropoid, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, I recommend reading this book before taking a peek on Wikipedia. Binet builds up as much suspense as he can and refrains from giving away too much information before the critical moment, and if you already know how things end, it may spoil the effect.

Binet is a very thoughtful writer and is highly concerned with the difficulties of transferring facts to the page without betraying the reality of what actually occurred or without turning his hero-assassaigns into characters rather than the people they actually were. About half the book is dedicated to his writing process with facts interspersed. It can be frustrating at times when Binet gives you an interested factoid, and then confesses in the next chapter that he was mistaken. Binet boldly refuses to redact his own learning process, but while I appreciate the effect, I also had to struggle to unlearn what I trusted was true. In some ways HHhH really is a novel because it is a semi-fictional depiction of the kind of work and self-evaluation that goes into writing nonfiction, but if you pick up this book expecting to learn something genuine about WWII, you won’t be disappointed either.

P.S. HHhH stands for Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich (Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich, i.e. Heydrich was a major Nazi player even if Himmler is more famous).

  1. lairn posted this