"HHhH blew me away... It's one of the best historical novels I've ever come across."—Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho and Less Than Zero
A Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
A Financial Times Best Book of the Year
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
HHhH: "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich," or "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich." The most lethal man in Hitler's cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich seemed indestructible—until two exiled operatives, a Slovak and a Czech, killed him and changed the course of history.
In Laurent Binet's mesmerizing debut, we follow Jozef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš from their dramatic escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to their fatal attack on Heydrich and their own brutal deaths in the basement of a Prague church. A seamless blend of memory, actuality, and Binet's own remarkable imagination, HHhH is at once thrilling and intellectually engrossing—a fast-paced novel of the Second World War that is also a profound meditation on the debt we owe to history.
Taking its title from the German for "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich," Binet's tour de force debut tells two stories: primarily that of the daring mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the prominent Nazi Protector of Bohemia and Moravia known as "The Butcher" and "The Man with the Iron Heart" (a nickname of Hitler's creation) among other epithets. It is also, however, the metafictional tale of Binet's struggles with shaping the story. The novel's 257 short chapters allow for these two strands to advance and entwine in gripping and revealing ways. When Binet stamps a key scene with the progressive dates of the three weeks in 2008 that it took him to render the eight-hour standoff in 1942, for instance, it deepens an already intense scene with a sense of the author's reluctance to dispatch characters he admires. Those men, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, "authors of one of the greatest acts of resistance in human history," were trained in England and parachuted back into Nazi-occupied Bohemia on a mission they both knew might be suicidal. After months of planning, on May 27, 1942, they ambushed Heydrich in Prague. Weeks later they were cornered in a church basement, and Binet renders an almost unbearable account of their final hours fending off the SS. With history never in question, it is Binet's details (such as Heydrich succumbing to an infection from having "horsehairs from the Mercedes's seats" blasted into his spleen) and his compassion for the partisans that elevate these set pieces. His thoughts on the perils of the genre are also succinct and striking; inserting invented characters into historical novels is "like planting false proof at a crime scene where the floor is already strewn with incriminating evidence." Binet demonstrates without a doubt that a self aware, cerebral structure can be deployed in the service of a gripping historical read. A perfect fusion of action and the avante-garde that deserves a place as a great WWII novel.
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This book is written in a strange style. One might say that it is really a book about a person who is writing the HHhH book. For me, none of this style added to the book and was a severe and unneeded distraction.
I would have given the book 5 stars for exhaustive research of the content.