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HHhH by Laurent Binet
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HHhH

by Laurent Binet

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,142837,160 (3.91)106
  1. 81
    The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (yokai)
  2. 10
    Resistance by Gerald Brennan (atbradley)
  3. 10
    Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich by Robert Gerwarth (meggyweg)
  4. 21
    Mendelssohn is on the Roof by Jiří Weil (gust)
  5. 10
    Jan Karski by Yannick Haenel (yokai)
  6. 00
    Fatherland by Robert Harris (karatelpek)
    karatelpek: Alternative History-HHhH is a key supporting character in Harris' dystopian future.
  7. 00
    Walhalla-Code: Kriminalroman by Uwe Klausner (passion4reading)
    passion4reading: A work of historical crime fiction, this nevertheless has Heydrich's assassination at its heart and deals with some of the fallout, both factual and fictitious.
  8. 11
    The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa (gust)
    gust: Ook hier verzetsleden die een dictator doden.
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» See also 106 mentions

English (56)  Dutch (16)  Spanish (6)  French (4)  Danish (2)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (86)
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
January 2013: I listened to this audiobook in preparation for TMN's Rooster Literary Award Blood-sport.

March 2013: I listened to the audiobook again. HHhH lost in the first round of the Roosters.

June 2013: Three months later later, this book is still with me. The narrator’s voice in my head is still sometimes there. The titular aitches refer to a German phrase about Henrich Heydrich: Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich / Himmler’s brain [is] named Heydrich.

Heydrich was not only a Nazi of superlative sadism, he was the Butcher of Prague. The man credited with formulating the Final Solution at Wansee. Because he was assassinated before the end of the war, and thus wasn't part of the Nuremberg trials, he isn't as well known. Even Hitler, apparently, was afraid of Heydrich's dark brilliance.

Here’s what I really liked about HHhH: it blended fiction and non-fiction in a seemingly seamless way. Binet tells of his obsession with tracking down the story, the true story, of the men who assassinated Heydrich. But Binet's narrator, however honest and forthright he may be about the difference between the things he can truthfully call “facts” and those he can only right call “speculation,” he (the narrator) is also a kind of construct himself -- i.e., a fictional lie. Binet points this out. Binet also points out that the "honest narrator as fictional construct and therefore also constitutionally dishonest" double bind isn't news to anyone who's picked up a Lit Crit book in the last 30 years. Such "meta" exercises can often feel hypoallergenically sterile, but in Binet's capable hands the construct comes to beautiful (as opposed to Frankensteinian) life.

In some ways (other than, of course, evil ends), Binets literary construct echoes the Nazi's own (and brilliantly evil) propaganda construct. Which lends an admirable kind of historical authenticity to the book. The fictional construct posing as a non-fictional narrator, which is itself a kind of propaganda that the reader willingly participates in, also puts the reader in the same position as a 1930s/40s German citizen -- i.e., as an object of propagandizing. For this reader, I found that both discomforting and revelational. Revelational in the sense that I better understood how easily it would have been, as a 1930s/40s German citizen, to fail to see what was going on around me.

Anyway, HHhH. Listening to it a second time, about 3/4s of the way through, I remembered that I’d actually seen a movie about this exact story; i.e., about the story of Heydrich’s assassination. I think I was 9 or 10 years old. The movie was one of the most claustrophobic, terrifying things I’d ever seen. It forever after ruined Holocaust movies for me (i.e., ruined them as educational entertainment). I couldn’t rid my mind of the panicky feeling of being trapped in a crypt while Nazis fought their way inside to kill me. I had seen this movie over three decades ago but until I listened to HHhH the second time around, I hadn’t remembered the movie for what it was. That retroactive memory was thus brought to new and dark life inside me; I put a proper and properly claustrophobic context to the assassins' plight. I felt like I was there. I felt, almost, like one of them.

So, along with Binet, I stand and salute the brave people who fought Nazis in the only way moral and weaker agents of the time could: with opposite and equally brutal force. Because while pacifism is a worthy goal (and a nearly categorically imperative one), sometimes evil must be fought to be contained; for to do otherwise is to practically underwrite its existence.

And yet, to demonize Nazis as somehow singularly and anomalously evil, is to ignore a truth that Alexander Solzhenitsyn framed best: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
I loved this book. It's a wonderful examination both of the "fiction" of non-fiction, in other words how much of ourselves we leave in any story that we express, factual or otherwise, and of the bounds of story telling. Binet's author character says at the end that he is still receiving new material even as he feels his book is finished and I think that's a great way of suggesting that we can never know, or deliver, the full facts of any story, historical or otherwise.

I was quite shocked to read through some of the other reviews on here to find that people had read it as a straight novel about Heydrich's assassination, one reviewer even recommended better novels on the subject, whilst complaining about the intrusions in the text by the author! I read it as a treatise about the nature of authorship and truth and I think Binet has constructed a multi-layered and nuanced novel that is one of the best books of recent years.

I realized how clever he was being when after one of his shorter, one line chapters, I understood that Binet himself had just spoken - I think he said that he now understood the kind of book he was writing - the depth of the undertaking struck me hard at that point. ( )
2 vote MartynChuzz | Feb 22, 2016 |
I was really intrigued by the premise of the book, and even more so once I started and discovered the author's dual narrative style. The subject matter was extremely tough though, so the author did a wonderful job of injecting some (understandable) lightness.

And above all, I learned some things about WWII that I didn't know before. ( )
2 vote ellohull | Feb 10, 2016 |
One of those books that people either like or dislike depending on whether or not they appreciate the style. I liked it! After all, how can a historian separate himself from the history he tries to write? A historical novel about the assassination attempt on the life of Reinhard Heydrich, the people involved, the WW2 milieu and the aftermath. ( )
1 vote dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
This is historical fiction about the assassination of Heinrich Heydrich (the main proponent for the Final Solution at the Wansee Conference). While it is a novel about Heydrich, his assassination, and his assassins, it is also a novel about writing a novel, specifically writing historical fiction. And that is the part I did not like. The constant authorial intrusions and interruptions bothered me terribly. (Or rather, perhaps, the intrusions of a fictional narrator who is writing a novel of historical fiction--in either case my complaint is the same). This may be merely a personal preference of mine, as I've had this same reaction to at least one other book like this. (However, in August I read The Lost City of Z, in which the author inserts into the history of the Amazonian explorations of Percy Fawcett his own adventures in researching the story and ultimately following in Fawcett's footsteps, and I found that in The Lost City of Z, the authorial intrusions worked perfectly--the book would not have been as good without them.)

I can objectively see that this is a very clever book, and perhaps a good novel in the metafictional sense. Binet calls the book an "infra-novel" in which the creative artist's struggle comes to the foreground. However, to give you a sense of how it grated on me, I can do no better than quote the following excerpt from an Amazon review:

"Imagine, if you will, picking up Tolstoy's War and Peace, and being confronted with passages like, 'And so Napoleon decided to invade Russia. Or at least that's what I think he decided. I wasn't there, so I can't exactly read his mind. All I can do is tell you that he did invade Russia, which is the story I'm going to write about. But it's hard to concentrate on that story just now because I'm equally fascinated with the lovely, blonde, 20 year old stenographer I just hired, and she's a tremendous distraction."

2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Aug 28, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Laurent Binetprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Botto, MargheritaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Corral, RodrigoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elewa, AdlyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kagan, AbbyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nes, Liesbeth vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, SamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Once again, the writer stains the tree of History with his thoughts, but it is not for us to find the trick that would enable us to put the animal back in its carrying cage.

—Osip Mandelstam, "The End of the Novel"
Dedication
First words
Gabčík—that's his name—really did exist.
Quotations
What would be the point of 'inventing' Nazism?
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Book description
Two men have been enlisted to kill the head of the Gestapo. This is Operation Anthropoid, Prague, 1942: two Czechoslovakian parachutists sent on a daring mission by London to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Nazi secret services, 'the hangman of Prague'. 'the blond beast', 'the most dangerous man in the Third Reich'.

His boss is Heinrich Himmler but everyone in the SS says 'Himmler's brain is called Heydrich', which in German spells HHhH.

All the characters in HHhH are real. All the events depicted are true. But alongside the nerve-shredding preparations for the attack runs another story: when you are a novelist writing about real people, how do you resist the temptation to make things up?

HHhH is a panorama of the Third Reich told through the life on one outstandingly brutal man, a story of unbearable heroism and loyalty, revenge and betrayal. It is improbably entertaining and electrifying modern, a moving and shattering work of fiction.
Haiku summary
A Slovak and a
Czech carefully plan Heydrich's
Assassination.
(passion4reading)
Jozef Gabĉík and
Jan Kubiŝ - remember their
Names and bravery.
(passion4reading)

No descriptions found.

(see all 3 descriptions)

Imagines the story of two Czechoslovakian partisans responsible for assassinating the "Butcher of Prague" Reinhard Heydrich, traces their escape from the Nazis and recruitment by the British secret service.

» see all 5 descriptions

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