HHhH: A Novel

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Overview

Laurent Binet?s HHhH, winner of the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, is ?a work of breadth, and absolute originality? (Claude Lanzmann)

Everyone has heard of Reinhard Heydrich, ?the Butcher of Prague.? And most have heard stories of his spectacular assassination at the hands of two Czechoslovakian partisans. But who exactly were the forgotten heroes who killed one of history?s most notorious men? In Laurent Binet?s captivating debut novel, HHhH (Himmlers Hirn heiBt Heydrich, or ...

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Overview

Laurent Binet’s HHhH, winner of the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, is “a work of breadth, and absolute originality” (Claude Lanzmann)

Everyone has heard of Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague.” And most have heard stories of his spectacular assassination at the hands of two Czechoslovakian partisans. But who exactly were the forgotten heroes who killed one of history’s most notorious men? In Laurent Binet’s captivating debut novel, HHhH (Himmlers Hirn heiBt Heydrich, or Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich), we follow the lives of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš, the Slovak and the Czech responsible for Heydrich’s death. From their heroic escape from Nazi-occupied Prague to their recruitment by the British secret services; from their meticulous preparation and training to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone; from their stealth attack on Heydrich’s car to their own brutal deaths in the basement of a Prague church, Binet narrates the compelling story of these two incredible men, rescuing their heroic acts from obscurity. The winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, Binet’s HHhH is a novel unlike anything else. A seemingly effortless blend of historical truth, personal memory, and Binet’s remarkable imagination, HHhH is a work at once thrilling and deeply engrossing—a historical novel and a profound meditation on the nature of writing and the debt we owe to history.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

This winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman artfully blends historical truth, imagination, and memory to render the stories of the two Czechoslovakian patriots who assassinated Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, the notorious "Butcher of Prague." A novel as vivid as history.

Publishers Weekly
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. (May)
Library Journal
Binet (La vie professionnelle de Laurent B) has written two novels in one here. The first is an often mesmerizing account of the assassination of the Blond Beast, Reinhard Heydrich, the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia when those parts of dismembered Czechoslovakia were under German occupation during World War II. The second novel, which runs contiguously with the first, is a very self-conscious and ongoing explanation about how he wrote the book. The plot traces the trajectories of the Slovak Jozef Gabcík and the Czech Jan Kubiš, sent by the British secret service, as they parachute into their country to assassinate the Nazi overlord. In tailing them on their mission, the author also supplies a brief bio of the Nazi leader, known at the time as the most dangerous man in the Third Reich. The book's title consists of the German letters for "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich" (Heydrich reported directly to Nazi Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler). VERDICT Binet won the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, France's most prestigious literary prize, for HHhH. This fluid translation by Taylor is a superb choice for lovers of historical literary works and even international thrillers. Most highly recommended.—Edward Cone, New York
Kirkus Reviews
The evergreen allure of Nazis as the embodiment of evil is what drives this French author's soul-stirring work: a hybrid of fact and meta-fiction that won the Prix Goncourt in 2010. Picture a man being driven to work in an open-top car, taking the same route every day. He is feared and loathed by passersby, yet he has no bodyguard. This is Heydrich in Prague in 1942: the Nazi Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, supremely powerful, supremely vulnerable. He is Binet's anti-hero. His projected assassination is Binet's story, and Heydrich's would-be assassins (Gabcík the Slovak and Kubiš the Czech) are Binet's heroes. "Two men have to kill a third man." Simple, no? But the narration is not. Binet's alter ego narrator is a zealous amateur historian. Like all amateurs, he makes mistakes; disarmingly, he admits them. "I've been talking rubbish," he exclaims. He retracts some of his assertions; he regrets his inadequacy as a historian. Yet in fact he does a good job of putting the assassination in a geopolitical context. He excoriates the spinelessness of the British and French governments in acceding to Hitler's takeover of Czechoslovakia. He convincingly profiles Heydrich, aka the Blond Beast and the Hangman of Prague. This monster was Himmler's deputy in the SS (the goofy title refers to the belief that he was also Himmler's brain) and the principal architect of the Final Solution. The assassination, dubbed Operation Anthropoid, was the brainchild of Beneš, head of the Czech government-in-exile in London. He needed a coup to restore the morale of the Czech anti-Nazis. Gabcík and Kubiš parachute in. The arrival of these modest yet extraordinary patriots is like the first hint of dawn after a pitch-black night. They are embedded with the Czech resistance while they plan tactics. The account of the assassination attempt and its nail-biting aftermath is brilliantly suspenseful. Binet deserves great kudos for retrieving this fateful, half-forgotten episode, spotlighting Nazi infamy, celebrating its resisters, and delivering the whole with panache.
Alan Riding
By placing himself in the story, alongside Heydrich and his assassins, the narrator challenges the traditional way historical fiction is written. We join him on his research trips to Prague; we learn his reactions to documents, books and movies; we hear him admit that he sometimes imagines what he cannot possibly know. And, in the end, his making of a historical novel brings a raw truth to an extraordinary act of resistance. This literary tour de force, now smoothly translated by Sam Taylor …[leaves] one intriguing question…unanswered: Is this a true account of how Binet wrote his book or did he plan its unusual structure from the start? Either way, the result is a gripping novel that brings us closer to history as it really happened.
—The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
HHhH blew me away. Binet’s style fuses it all together: a neutral, journalistic honesty sustained with a fiction writer’s zeal and story-telling instincts. It’s one of the best historical novels I’ve ever come across.”—Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho and Less Than Zero

"Unsurpassable... Told with elegance and grace... A magnificent book."—Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

“Brings a raw truth to an extraordinary act of resistance...A literary tour de force...A gripping novel that brings us closer to history as it really happened.”—Alan Riding, The New York Times Book Review

“Binet has threaded his novel with a contemporary story, which is the drama of the book's own making.... The tone is clever, witty, casually postmodern....Captivating.”—James Wood, The New Yorker

HHhH is a startling novel....Who would expect a postmodern exploration of the limits of historical fiction to be a page-turner? But it is, absolutely....Fascinating.”—Madeline Miller, NPR

“Marvelous...Pulsing with life, lit by a wisp of dry humor, [and] fully imagined.”—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

“One of the best and most original new novels I’ve read in years....HHhH is paced like a thriller, in which the endgame is the fate of the world.”—Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“[An] extraordinary first novel...HHhH, translated from the French by Sam Taylor, charts Heydrich’s rise through the Nazi ranks and Germany’s march to war...[to] the training in Britain of the Czech and Slovak assassins, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabcík, who parachuted into the country in December 1941 to kill Heydrich. Ample material for a decent espionage thriller, but Binet, ‘a slave to my scruples,’ makes something altogether less commonplace of it. His fidelity to the historical record, and obsessive urge to analyse those moments where surmise replaces fact, makes HHhH as much about the technical and moral processes of writing a historical novel as it is a historical novel...This unusual method results in a literary triumph...Using short, punchy chapters, Binet keeps his story haring along. The book’s final section, which recounts the assassination and subsequent manhunt in minute detail, is a masterpiece of tension, and its closing pages are extremely moving. Very few page-turners come as smart and original as this.”—Chris Power, The Times (London)

“[Binet] knows how to wrangle powerful moments from history.”—Susannah Meadows, The New York Times

“Every now and then a piece of work comes along that undermines the assumptions upon which all previous works have been built...These pieces of art complicate the genre for everyone that follows. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius did it for the memoir, Reservoir Dogs for action films, and now HHhH does it for the historical novel. Laurent Binet’s brilliantly translated debut deconstructs the process of fiction writing in the face of the brute reality of facts...Binet’s [HHhH] resets the path of the historical novel. He has a bright, bright future.”—David Annand, The Telegraph

“Ingenious and inventive... HHhH [is a] knockout blow in the boxing match of genre-defying literature. Binet steps between styles with ease... [and] has written a tale of Heydrich to defy most academic study. Moreover, Binet has managed to engage. His description is playful and joyous, at times even wrongfully celebratory, but always, always surprisingly on form. As a deserving winner of the Prix Goncourt, HHhH is a fantastic read. As a dynamic assault on the genres of contemporary writing, HHhH must join that coterie of celebrated titles: it is unique.”—Charles J. Haynes, California Literary Review

“An impressive debut...HHhH is fascinating not only because of the subject matter, but also because of the immense amount of detail Binet includes. The book transports and enraptures. It also impresses upon the reader the legacy of that history. His reflections on how to write the book with thoroughness and integrity and the effect of the project on his life are examples of how important the subject and the consequences of the history are to him. Heydrich’s life is not as documented as those of other high ranking Nazi officers. By researching and publishing HHhH, Binet reminds the reader that history has myriads of layers, but that they are all relevant in our contemporary world.”—Ashley McNelis, Bomb

“[HHhH is] quirky, clever...Binet makes a very perceptive and informed recording angel, one with an exceptionally clear and unfussy prose style (rendered extremely well by the translator, Sam Taylor). It doesn’t hurt that he has triple-A premium material, but Binet doesn’t push too hard to give the events a meaning. He lets them be the tragedy that they are, and as such they’re devastating.”—Lev Grossman, Time.com

“[HHhH] is as much a meditation on fictionalizing history—on factual truth versus a more expansive definition of truth, on the obligations and the agendas of writers—as it is a story about an assassination...Binet accomplishes something paradoxical. By clinging to the historical record and a very strict definition of truth, he transcends the barest facts and creates a work with its own heft and depth... [He] has produced the only essential piece of World War II fiction in years.”—Jessica Crispin, Barnes & Noble Review

“[HHhH] is utterly compelling and ruthlessly fascinating.”—Laurence Mackin, Irish Times

“A breezily charming novel, with a thrilling story that also happens to be true, by a gifted young author...[Binet] marshals and deploys his materials with exceptional dramatic skill...By the time you reach the book’s devastating finale, it’s this discreet storytelling mastery... that leaves the deepest impression.”—James Lasdun, The Guardian

“A cracking book... With its double-narrative and its authorial playfulness, HHhH reads in places like a stylistic homage to WG Sebald or Italo Calvino.”—Ruadhán MacCormaic, Irish Times

“That HHhH is so devastatingly brilliant is testament to both its originality and ambition. In fact, it would not be going too far to say it is a modern masterpiece.”—Rob Minshull, ABC (Brisbane)

HHhH triumphs precisely because it not only delicately, and sometimes grippingly, depicts a major historical moment, but because it manages to depict the unique challenges of 21st-century remembrance.”—Michael Lapointe, The Globe and Mail

HHhH is brilliant.” —Michel Basilières, The Toronto Star

“[A] remarkable first novel... Binet has created a rare thing: a book that tells us stories, mixing scholarship with suspense, while simultaneously laying bare and critiquing the book's construction. It's a difficult approach, which makes the enjoyment of reading it all the more striking.”—Matthew Tiffany, Plain-Dealer (Cleveland)

“There are not enough books that blend the profound and the entertaining. This is one and it comes in a sparkling translation by novelist Sam Taylor.”—John Gardner, New Zealand Herald

“An extraordinary first novel... A literary triumph... The books final section, which recounts the assassination and subsequent manhunt in minute detail, is a masterpiece of tension, and its closing pages are extremely moving. Very few page-turners come as smart and original as this.”—The Times (London)

“This is mesmeric stuff; history brought to chilling, potent life.”—Leyla Senai, The Independent

“I really don’t know how to praise this book further than to say that it changed my conception of the possibilities of literature. I cannot recommend this book more highly than saying, despite the cliche, that it is an actual must-read, both for its important content, but as importantly, for its avant-garde nature as it pushes forward the boundaries of historical fiction. (From a different lens, it represents the avant garde of teaching history. I can’t imagine anyone who would read this book and consequently not feel interested in the essential questions of historiography i.e. what can we truly know about history.) Go out, find this book, devour it, and prepare to find yourself changed, in ways you could not expect.”—Joe Winkler, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“A brilliantly profound debut about the assassination of the architect of the Holocaust... I found myself turning pages faster and faster while I read about the two men who parachuted into the countryside and slowly closed in on Heydrich, even though I knew exactly what was about to happen. Maybe you can’t write a successful novel about the Holocaust. But, turns out, you can write a wonderful book—let’s call it a novel—about the impossibility of writing about the Holocaust.”—Malcolm Jones, The Daily Beast

“Riveting... [HHhH is] exuberant and breathless and wonderful throughout.”—Weston Cutter, Kenyon Review

HHhH is a highly original piece of work, at once charming, moving, and gripping.”—Martin Amis, author of The Pregnant Widow

“A wonderful, ambitious book, and a triumph of translation.”—Colum McCann, National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin

HHhH is an astonishing book—absorbing, moving, for the agony and acuity with which its author engages the problem of making literary art from unbearable historical fact."—Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

“A work of absolute originality.”—Claude Lanzmann

“By the time I got to the last page of Binet’s masterpiece, I had to close my eyes and rethink history. I’m rethinking it still.”—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

“Laurent Binet has given a new dimension to the non-fiction novel by weaving his writerly anxieties about the genre into the narrative, but his story is no less compelling for that, and the climax is unforgettable.”—David Lodge, Booker Prize-winning author of Small World and Nice Work

HHhH offers something all too rare in contemporary literature: the excitement of encountering something that feels genuinely new. Laurent Binet has thrown all the rules of authorial decorum out the window, and the result is a historical novel of the Czech resistance to the Nazis that is a playful, suspenseful delight.”—John Wray, author of Lowboy

“Read HHhH and be hooked, horrified, haunted, and (h)enthralled.”—Bernard Pivot, JDD

“[A] tour de force... Gripping... Binet demonstrates without a doubt that a self-aware, cerebral structure can be deployed in the service of a gripping historical read. [HHhH is] a perfect fusion of action and the avante-garde that deserves a place as a great WWII novel.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The story of how two Czech agents—recruited by the British secret service—assassinated Hitler’s ruthless lieutenant Reinhard Heydrich in broad daylight on a Prague street in 1942 has been told by the historian. Now it is the novelist’s turn. And what a turn Binet delivers! Weaving together historical fact, fictional narrative, and authorial reflection in what he labels an infranovel, Binet gives readers a close-up look at the metamorphosis of documentary truth into literary art. It is an art that makes disturbingly real the cold cruelty of a Nazi titan intent on slaughtering innocent Jews and makes inspiringly luminous the courage of Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš, the men who kill him. But it is also a curiously hybrid art that foregrounds the creative artist’s own struggle to wrest meaning out of his anarchic material. Nowhere is this struggle more evident than in Binet’s handling of the bizarre climax of his chronicle, when Gabcik stares down Heydrich’s car, only to have his gun jam, forcing Kubiš to lob a bomb, leaving the wounded Nazi leader to die days later of an infection. Readers will recognize why this brilliant work won the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman—and why an English translation was imperative!”—Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)

“[HHhH is a] soul-stirring work... The account of the assassination attempt and its nail-biting aftermath is brilliantly suspenseful... Binet deserves great kudos for retrieving this fateful, half-forgotten episode, spotlighting Nazi infamy, celebrating its resisters, and delivering the whole with panache.”—Kirkus (starred review)

The Barnes & Noble Review

Heaven preserve us from any more novels set during World War II.

Every possible story has been told. Every shard of the fragmented world the war left us in has been examined and catalogued, every possible narrative turn already taken. One wants to beg the eager young novelist presenting his or her heartfelt story of love and redemption set against the backdrop of the death camps, please just stop it already. Find some new material — there is nothing genuine left here for you.

Of course, it's obvious why writers want to write the World War II novel. Never before were the stakes so high, and they never would be again. Never were the good guys and the bad guys so instantly recognizable. This particular setting heightens any cookie-cutter story almost immediately, no real work required. But that is also why so many of these novels are deeply disappointing. The writers of mediocre World War II fiction don't really have the strength to confront the material, they just drop in their characters from above like so many wooden marionettes. But you can't simply stand on the already dead corpse of Nazism and claim the victory as your own. Writers seem to forget that when you're going up against the Devil, you had better have a pretty powerful weapon.

Laurent Binet appears apologetic that he has written a novel with Nazis in it. In HHhH, he hedges, he repents, he qualifies. He knows all of the pitfalls of the genre and he uses them — and then immediately points out that he did so. And with all of the hemming and hawing, the writing and scratching out, the scribbling in the margins and constant authorial interference, Binet has produced the only essential piece of World War II fiction in years.

Binet believes he has found the one untold story of World War II. Somehow a small vein of ore has survived the years of strip mining by clumsy novelists, and he races toward it with his pickaxe. It's a particularly pure variety, the story of the assassination of one of the most important and cold- hearted Germans in Hitler's inner circle. It's none other than the architect of the Final Solution himself, Reinhard Heydrich. (Hence the strange title, HHhH, or Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich — Himmler's brain is called Heydrich.) The assassination itself is so incredibly pulpy — two parachutists, one Czech, one Slovakian, drop into Prague to take out the evil mastermind, and there's a gun that jams at the worst possible second, a traitor, a shootout in a cathedral, and a martyr's death — it's impossible to believe no one has told the story before. Just think of the film adaptation, sweeping the Oscars. Binet is sitting on a gold mine.

Only, in the course of writing the novel, Binet learns that the story has indeed been told before. More than once. In films, in books. He refuses to be discouraged, and he works to find fault in all that came before him so that he may justify the existence of his own account. There are factual errors in some, melodramatic flourishes in others. One novel, David Chacko's Like a Man, he almost envies for its certainty about how things went down. When Binet finds gaps in the historical record, even on minor details like what one of the assassins might have been wearing, he twists himself into knots, trying to decide whether to make something up to fill in that gap or whether he should say he doesn't know. Usually he does both. But Chacko confidently writes in declarative sentences. Binet complains, "So he bases his tale on a true story, fully exploiting its novelistic elements, blithely inventing when that helps the narration, but without being answerable to history. He's a skillful cheat. A trickster. Well...a novelist, basically."

Binet can't quite let himself be a novelist, and that is what makes the book so remarkable. It is as much a meditation on fictionalizing history — on factual truth versus a more expansive definition of truth, on the obligations and the agendas of writers — as it is a story about an assassination. The real historical story of Jozef Gabč¡k and Jan Kubiš may move in a relatively straight line, from the Czechoslovak government-in-exile under President Edvard Beneš in Britain to the parachute drop to Heydrich's car to the last hideout in the cathedral. It has a powerful thrust behind it, an inevitable momentum. Binet refuses to be pulled alongside it. When a friend asks him how much of the story he is inventing on his own, Binet snaps, "What would be the point of 'inventing' Nazism?"

"I'm not sure yet if I'm going to 'visualize' (that is, invent!) this meeting or not. If I do, it will be the clinching proof that fiction does not respect anything." Binet, a secondary school teacher, by the way, is right: fiction does not respect anything. The way it mucks about with the historical record to reveal deeper truths is often the source of its power. But that is possible only when the writer is up to the task. More often fiction dresses itself in in the heavy drapery of history, pretending the gravity is its own. Binet accomplishes something paradoxical. By clinging to the historical record and a very strict definition of truth, he transcends the barest facts and creates a work with its own heft and depth. Laurent Binet decided to take on a devil named Heydrich. It is our good fortune his arsenal was a full one.

Jessa Crispin is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Bookslut.com.

Reviewer: Jessa Crispin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374169916
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/24/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 628,366
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurent Binet was born in Paris, France, on July 19, 1972. He graduated from Sciences Po, the CELSA Paris (DESS), and the University of Kent, where he completed an MA in European studies. He is the author of La Vie professionnelle de Laurent B., a memoir of his experience teaching in secondary schools in Paris. In March 2010, HHhH won the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman. Binet is a professor at the University of Paris III, where he lectures on French literature.

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Read an Excerpt

1

 

 

Gabcík—that’s his name—really did exist. Lying alone on a little iron bed, did he hear, from outside, beyond the shutters of a darkened apartment, the unmistakable creaking of the Prague tramways? I want to believe so. I know Prague well, so I can imagine the tram’s number (but perhaps it’s changed?), its route, and the place where Gabcík waits, thinking and listening. We are at the corner of Vyšehradská and Trojická. The number 18 tram (or the number 22) has stopped in front of the Botanical Gardens. We are, most important, in 1942. In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera implies that he feels a bit ashamed at having to name his characters. And although this shame is hardly perceptible in his novels, which are full of Tomášes, Tominas, and Terezas, we can intuit the obvious meaning: what could be more vulgar than to arbitrarily give—from a childish desire for verisimilitude or, at best, mere convenience—an invented name to an invented character? In my opinion, Kundera should have gone further: what could be more vulgar than an invented character?

So, Gabcík existed, and it was to this name that he answered (although not always). His story is as true as it is extraordinary. He and his comrades are, in my eyes, the authors of one of the greatest acts of resistance in human history, and without doubt the greatest of the Second World War. For a long time I have wanted to pay tribute to him. For a long time I have seen him, lying in his little room—shutters closed, window open—listening to the creak of the tram (going which way? I don’t know) that stops outside the Botanical Gardens. But if I put this image on paper, as I’m sneakily doing now, that won’t necessarily pay tribute to him. I am reducing this man to the ranks of a vulgar character and his actions to literature: an ignominious transformation, but what else can I do? I don’t want to drag this vision around with me all my life without having tried, at least, to give it some substance. I just hope that, however bright and blinding the veneer of fiction that covers this fabulous story, you will still be able to see through it to the historical reality that lies behind.

 

Copyright © 2009 by Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle Translation copyright © 2012 by Sam Taylor

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Laurent Binet
HHhH is a very mysterious title. What does it mean?
It was a sort of SS joke that meant 'Himmler's brain is called Heydrich' (Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich), suggesting that the real boss of the SS was not Himmler, but his right-hand man.
How did you come to be interested in Heydrich, and more particularly in the two heroes sent by the British secret services to assassinate him?
By chance, as is the case for almost everything that happens to us. As part of my military service, I was sent to Slovakia to give French classes to Slovakian soldiers. My father had told me vaguely about this story, so I started asking questions, and the first details that I heard—the machine gun that jammed, the SS troops trying to drown the parachutists in the crypt—aroused my curiosity.
Could you explain how you researched and wrote the book? For example, the text is based around an author who is very much present—yourself. The story develops through a series of very short chapters, some consisting of only a few lines. Why did you choose this particular form? Was it even a choice?
I wrote this book as if I were solving a puzzle: 250 chapters written out of order, based on the historical information that I was researching, films or novels that I found on the same subject, and my thoughts on the difficulties of writing an account of a true story without betraying the subject or the characters, while at the same time maintaining the appeal and suspense of a novel in its narration.
The book is being published all over the world. How does that feel, to see your story reproduced in a multitude of different languages? Have you noticed any interesting differences of interpretation between different countries?
I am particularly happy about that because, even if I dreamed that the book would be successful, I had never thought that it would be translated. There are lots of questions that are repeated from one country to another, but there are also specific differences. In Spain, for instance, I had lots of questions about the dialogue. I have no idea why, but I was very pleased because it's a question that I find fascinating.
Who have you discovered lately?
I have been reading William T. Vollman's Europe Central for years. I was so dazzled by the first few pages that I couldn't go any further; I just kept re-reading them. A few months later, I started again . . . then I stopped, started again, stopped . . . I'm halfway through it now. I envy a country that produces such brilliant writers. At the moment, I'm reading Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail 72. I have professional reasons for doing this, as I'm covering the French presidential election campaign. I love the freedom of its voice. I hope my book about the presidential campaign will have some of that spirit. I recently read a book by a French author, Jean Rolin, called Le Ravissement de Britney Spears (The Rapture of Britney Spears), in reference to a title by Marguerite Duras, Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein. But, well, it doesn't really have anything to do with Duras. This is the pitch: a French secret agent who does not have a driver's license is sent to LA to protect Britney Spears, who is being threatened with abduction by an Islamist group. Very American, but also very 70s and French: you should translate it. You'd probably enjoy it.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013

    Interesting

    This was an interesting story, but it could have been told in half the pages. I was not fond of the amount of time spent by the author talking about himself and his writing decisions. A bit too self absorbed for me.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2012

    Too thin on actual Heydrich story

    I always enjoy a historical fiction but couldn't even finish this one. The author blends his running commentary on other books on the subject, as well as his thoughts on his treatment of the subject, in the book itself. I found HHhH extremely hard to read, really just wanted the story of the attempted assasination of Heydrich.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2012

    If Ms. Crispin read the book and were aware of everything else t

    If Ms. Crispin read the book and were aware of everything else that's been written about Reinhard Heydrich, she'd realize that Laurent Binet has added something unique and vital to the body of work already available on this evil "genius." I generally don't like novels that blend historical fact with fiction, but the author does it without betraying the truths that we know; he simply fills in the blanks that we don't know. It's a good read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 27, 2012

    Compelling read, utterly fascinating. I could hardly put it down

    Compelling read, utterly fascinating.
    I could hardly put it down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2013

    Aphrodite

    I am gonna kill her.... she got in trouble with the cops! They came to my place asking questions!

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    I would not recommend this book.

    A "herky-jerkey" self-examination in the guise of a novel in which the author cannot decide whether he is going to examine the subject matter and tell a readable story or indulge in self-flagellation. It is barely readable and NOT worth the money.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2013

    Not just another book about Hitler and the Nazis

    A French writer takes on the Czech assassination plot of high-level Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich. The story is as much about writing the tale of the parachutists who dropped into Czechoslovakia as it is about the parachutists themselves. Only a Frenchman could weave such a narrative, driving the plot along while musing on the nature of writing. I liked the book so much I picked up a copy in French to see how they compare.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2012

    Disappointing

    Given that this novel won a Prix Goncourt I expected a better book. I think the author failed to bring any of his characters to life. Heydrich, in particular, does not really emerge as a real fiigure.The juxtaposition of "fact" and fiction was not particularly novel although the reviewer for the NYT seems to have been impressed by this.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2014

    Hannah to bree

    Bree!!!!!!"! What happened to vine! moonflower vine!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2014

    Bree

    "Next result."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2014

    Hi

    Hi <rp>

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2014

    &psi Apprentice's Den &psi

    Besides the Warrior's Den, the Apprentice's Den. Littered with warm nest, this cavern serves perfectly as a Den.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2013

    What is this place

    Who the h*** are you people?? THIS IS FOR REVIEWS NOT TO FANTASIZE OVER A FAKE LIFE BECAUSE YOURS ARE SAD JUDGING BY WHAT I AM READING

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2013

    A book

    This book is so good you guys n girls read this

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2013

    Yooo

    rl good u guys

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    Hi

    Hi

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2013

    Help

    Somebody come to life after res one. Austin needs help!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2013

    Unknown

    Hey *she says then walk to you slowly her hips movin back and forth * this seat taken? *points to empty sseat nxt to u

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2013

    Skye

    A 15-year-old girl with tightly curled blonde hair and blue eyes walks in. She is chewing bubblegum. "I'm Skye Armelia, the new girl in town. I just got transferred here, from New Zealand."

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews

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