HHhH by Laurent Binet

Recently I read Robert Gerwath’s HITLER’S HANGMAN: THE LIFE OF HEYDRICH. It was an amazing biography of a person described as “Himmler’s Brain.” Reinhard Heydrich was the Chief of the Nazi Criminal Police, the SS Security Service and the Gestapo, also the ruthless overlord of Nazi-occupied Bohemia and Moravia during World War II. In addition he was the leading organizer of the “Final Solution” until May 27, 1942 as well as the “host” for the Wannsee Conference that many believe set up the infrastructure for the Holocaust, quite a resume! Heydrich was one of the most important figures in the Nazi hierarchy and quite possibly would have worked his way up to be Hitler’s successor had he not been assassinated by a Czech and a Slovak as part of a British secret service plot in May, 1942. Since Heydrich was such an important historical figure I was fascinated by Laurent Binet’s remarkable book, HHhH translated from French into English by Sam Taylor and published last year. Binet’s work is a combination of historical fiction and historical narrative, a process he describes as an “infranovel.”

This book is an unusual combination of impeccable historical research and prose. The author seems to meditate over his material as he presents it in the form of a conversation with himself. His application of subtle sarcasm exists throughout and his descriptions of his characters are hauntingly accurate. The first half of the book presents the background in the form of a bio-fiction of Heydrich’s life and then the author moves on to discuss his main concern the assassination of the “Butcher of Prague.” The reader is provided an interesting portrayal of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis the British trained assassins, who are parachuted into the Prague area in May, 1942. The reader is taken for a chilling ride with these partisans as they carry out their mission, the Nazi reprisals resulting in the massacre of the Czech town of Lidice, their own deaths and the eventual extermination of all individuals who are linked to the plot by the Germans. Binet is irreverent in his descriptions, be it social situations or ideological debates to the point that some of the scenes seem farcical. The author’s blend of historical accuracy and fictional musings draw the reader in with his commentary, i.e.; in dealing with Anglo-French sellout of Czechoslovakia in September, 1938 he states, “at this level of political stupidity, betrayal becomes almost a work of art.” The book is truly an accurate portrayal of history presented in the form of a novel. As a historian I wish he could have provided footnotes and a bibliography!

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