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HHhH: A Novel by Laurent Binet

HHhH: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Laurent Binet, Sam Taylor (Translator)

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1,066827,857 (3.89)104
Title:HHhH: A Novel
Authors:Laurent Binet
Other authors:Sam Taylor (Translator)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Read in 2013, Your library, Loaned from library

Work details

HHhH by Laurent Binet

  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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English (53)  Dutch (15)  Spanish (6)  French (4)  Danish (2)  Finnish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (82)
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
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 |
Whilst part of the way through reading HHhH, my husband enquired what the point of the book was. After thinking hard for a moment I struggled to give him a clear answer. Is it the story of a writer's experience of writing an historical novel? Is it an historical factual account, or a fictional account of a historical event? Is it an alternative account of the Third Reich during WWII, told from the specific viewpoint of the Czechs? Is it a biography of the rise and fall of Heydrich, the Blonde Beast, Hangman of Europe, Butcher of Prague? Is it a critique of the traditional techniques employed in writing historical texts? Is it simply a thrilling spy novel?

Now that I've finished the book, I would say that it's all these things and more. This book is nothing short of a total game changer, turning literary history completely on its head and creating a new genre of its own.

It's brave, it's audacious (Binet has no fear in head-on negatively critiquing his successful literary predecessors), it's thrilling, it's unique, it's page-turning, and above all its eminently readable.

HHhH is written in the story within a story format, with Binet narrating his struggles to do justice to the story of an assassination attempt on Reinhard Heidrich by a Czech and Slovak parachuted in from London. So many story lines are interwoven within the narrative - the accession of Heidrich through the ranks of the Third Reich, the lead up to the Final Solution, the political divisions within Czechoslovakia, the Czech Resistance movement, the increasing expansion of the Third Reich within Europe, and Binet's analysis of the right and wrong ways to write a book about a key historical event.

This story could have ended up like so many other non-fiction history books - either jam-packed full of endless detail that becomes tedious and impossible to remember, or else with facts sacrificed where it suits to create a more thrilling fictional account. Binet eyeballs both alternatives and decides to create a third option instead; he increases the tension with fictionalised firsthand detail on occasion, but then immediately admits to the reader where he's 'padded', and he also bins most of the factual detail that's irrelevant to his ultimate storyline, however tempting it may be to cram in all those facts he's meticulously researched.

It all sounds a bit barmy - and it is - but it's a format that totally works. He includes just the right amount of detail and literary brilliance to put you right there as a fly on the wall of every scene. I was gripped from the first page to the last, and every part of my brain feels like it's had a workout. I'm now informed about part of WWII that I didn't know much about previously, I'm emotionally exhausted from feeling like I was standing on the sidelines of a James Bond-esque mission of heroic daring, and I can't stop thinking about how it's still possible for someone to take such a hugely new approach to writing.

The whole time I was reading this amazing book I kept thinking "THIS is how we should be teaching history to our children". I am consistently frustrated by my inability to remember historical facts, yet Binet's writing style is so enveloping I feel confident there are many facts from this corner of history that are now indelibly imprinted in my mind. Binet is the cool, funky, history teacher you never had - but you have now.

5 stars (which astounds me - I don't even really like historical or thriller genres) ( )
4 vote AlisonY | Jun 17, 2015 |
The assassination of Reinhard Heydrich is one of the great heroic tales of our time. Two Czech freedom-fighters took on what they understood to be a suicide mission to take down the "Butcher of Prague," one of the prime authors of the Final Solution.

I've known the story for years. In picking up Laurent Binet's "HHhH," the question I had was, "Can it really be retold in a different, invigorating way?" The answer is yes.

Binet's approach is unique. On the cover, the book is called "A Novel." It reads more to me like a book-length personal essay (Binet himself calls it an "infranovel.") What Binet does is write a book about his writing a book about Heydrich and his demise. If that sounds off-putting, I felt a little that way myself as I began reading it. But in the course of things, the power of the story itself takes hold, and the Binet's story and the Heydrich story merge in compelling ways.

When it comes to the assassination itself--as well as its immediate aftermath--even though I know the details, I was riveted by Binet's retelling. At this point I couldn't put the book down, and was profoundly moved. By the last word of the last page, I felt myself merged into the story myself and knew I had been through an experience.

(I think the book will be enjoyed much more by those like me who already know the Heydrich story, as opposed to those who don't.) ( )
1 vote kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
a post modernist take on Reinhard Heydrich, the blond beast, master of the secret service, author of the holocaust and ruler of Czechoslovakia. The French narrator is writing a book about this, burdened by knowledge and a self defeating quest for accuracy and the truth. It's a tale of heroism, as a Czech and a Slovak mount an assassination attempt, supported by the cast of heroic 'little' people who shelter and aid them. And a tale of atrocity, as we follow Heydrich. I found the post modern detachment slightly irritating, but perhaps that's a matter of personal taste...
  otterley | Mar 26, 2015 |
10. HHhH by Laurent Binet (2009, 327 page trade paperback, read Jan 9 - Feb 2)
translated from French by Sam Taylor

I get intimidated by books, actually I find the intimidation an odd form of attraction. But there was nothing to worry about here. For such a dour subject, this was a really fun book.

Binet gives a history of the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich during WWII. Heydrich was a key Nazi leader. He was also very young and considered a possible successor the Hitler at some point in the future. He was assassinated in Prague on May 27, 1942 by a two men flown in from England. One was a Slovak, Jozef Gabčík, and the other was a Czech, Jan Kubiš. When the Nazi's couldn't find the assassins they randomly wiped out the Czech town of Lidice, killing all the men, almost all the children and imprisoning all the women in Ravensbrück concentration camp. And then they advertised the massacre, resulting a something like a PR blow with a major popular backlash. Lidice became a rally point for all allied countries. There is a lot of death in this book, as goes with the subject of WWII.

That is all interesting, but it's Binet's style that makes the book work and keeps it entertaining. It's written as if the narrator is telling the reader about his process of research, as if the book itself were a journal of an obsessed researcher. He talks about struggling to capture the experience of history when capturing it is impossible. And he can't even know himself what the experiences really were like.

I would argue the book is highly stylized and does not feel not like a real journal. The writing is too clean and neat and too simple with no slang and few casual mannerism of expression. This is a bit ironic because he contrasts himself with the wordy introductions of Victor Hugo and then tells us, "So I've decided not to overstylize my story." Yet, that is exactly what he has done. But, it works, it's enjoyable, sad and thought provoking on several levels. Recommended. ( )
2 vote dchaikin | Mar 16, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (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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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"
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Gabčík—that's his name—really did exist.
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
Jozef Gabĉík and
Jan Kubiŝ - remember their
Names and bravery.

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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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