Saturday, 6 June 2015

HHhH by Laurent Binet Review


HHhH = Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich, which in English means: Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.

This is the true story of one of the most evil men who ever lived, Reinhard Heydrich, and Operation Anthropoid (also the original title of the book), the successful plot to assassinate him by the heroic pair, Jan Kubis and Jozek Gabcik.

Heydrich was Head of the Gestapo and one of the most feared men in Hitler’s Third Reich. He was central to the Final Solution (the formal planning behind the Holocaust) and, during his bloodthirsty reign as Acting Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (modern day Czechoslovakia), he became known alternately as the Hangman of Prague, the Butcher of Prague, and the Blond Beast. Even Hitler described him as “the man with the iron heart” – Hitler!!

So why is this seemingly non-fiction history book classed as fiction? Laurent Binet’s chatty, intrusive voice. In between relating the fascinating story behind Operation Anthropoid and Heydrich’s wretched life, Binet laments the nature of narrative history, constantly questioning the veracity of what he writes - how can he know Heydrich said this? and so on - even though he doesn’t go back and change any of it.

This affects the structure of the book so that it’s a constantly jerky read: facts are presented, then Binet goes back and picks apart his writing, throws in some neurotic rambling, goes off on several tangents, and then resumes the history. The short, choppy chapters – many just a line or two long - don’t make it any easier. Reading Binet’s writing in HHhH is simply exhausting! And that’s why it’s loosely termed fiction: Binet’s almost stream-of-consciousness-relating of what amounts to a heavily stylized history book.

The story behind Operation Anthropoid, Kubis and Gabcik’s extremely sloppy execution of the plan, and it’s glorious and tragic aftermath, is the stuff of legend. I’m not even going to attempt relating the details here but it’s truly thrilling material whose nuances beggar belief – and yet it all happened. It’s no wonder Kubis and Gabcik became national heroes. 

You will learn a lot from this book though unfortunately Binet ruins it with his utterly irritating narration and laboured treatment of the facts. Five stars for the history, one star for Binet’s writing = three stars even. The history is interesting, the author is not. There’s probably a great book out there about Heydrich and Operation Anthropoid but HHhH ain’t it.

HHhH

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