Whether you find it something more than that will depend on how you feel about the application of breezy charm and amusingly anguished authorial self-reflexiveness to a book about the Nazi security chief Reinhard Heydrich, who must be one of the most unfunny figures in recorded history. At their crudest they seem purely self-regarding: there to present him as an appealing type of slacker-scholar, glued to the History Channel, addicted to video-games, given to amiably flip outbursts of opinion, while also winningly obsessive over questions of micro-historical accuracy, and obsessed with his own obsessiveness. Which side of the train did the exiled head of Czechoslovak secret services sit on during his clandestine trip through Nazi Germany to set up the resistance networks in Prague? Elsewhere the intrusions seem to be more about assembling an on-the-hoof literary manifesto. Quick nods and jabs are delivered at the many books and movies that have inspired or threatened Binet along the way.

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Start your review of HHhH Write a review Shelves: ww2 This is what I think: inventing a character in order to understand historical facts is like fabricating evidence.

Or rather, in the words of my brother-in-law, with whom Ive discussed all this: Its like planting false proof at a crime scene where the floor is already strewn with incriminating evidence. I dont know how to describe him any other way except that he has a punchable face.

This is a book with a plot ensnared in the arduous process of conceiving a historical novel. Laurent Binet is writing about the assassination of the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich and the men who killed him in Prague. Binet shares with us the concerns he has with taking too many liberties with what is known truth and what are his reasonable speculations. Was Heydrich riding in a forest green car or was it black? Does it matter?

His girlfriend Natacha reads the chapters as he writes them. She is involved in the process to call him to task whenever he breaks one of his own rules about writing historical fiction. In the afternoon I put it back again. He was picked on as a child. The anger against humanity could have begun there. The question is, did his childish tormentors create him or did they sense on some feral level that he was going to be the architect of something evil?

No one could have guessed the magnitude of the holocaust that he was going to unleash. They were men who wanted to have power over people and dreamed up creative ways to hurt them, but even among them, Hitler had to look for a man cold and calloused enough to exterminate legions. Reinhard Heydrich was the perfect man for the job.

Nonfiction in many ways fails to tell the truth by the very process of stripping away all the elements that are not known. We know that things are discussed, but usually those dialogues are not recorded for posterity. A good writer will read everything he can find on a historical person he plans to use in a novel. She will read everything she can find about the period.

He will read letters and diaries to glean bits and pieces of information that will lend more authenticity to his novel. She will know the type of pen that was in the hand of a letter writer or the shapes of stains on the walls of a prison cell or the color of frilly underwear a mistress wore for her German lover.

When a writer has done this much research, he knows instinctively although still subjectively how a historical figure will react to a situation. Reasonably accurate dialogue can be written, most assuredly better written than the original discussion. The point of historical fiction is to make people come alive more than what can be accomplished by staying strictly within the facts of what is known. I do appreciate it when a fiction writer does not alter events known to be true.

Though even that I can forgive if they notate those deviations in the forward. Was the car dark green or was it black? Reinhard Heydrich is a man ripe for assassination.

He is careless and frequently seen riding around Prague in a convertible car without bodyguards. The people who know him despise him, and the rest of the world would, too, if they knew what he was doing. Heydrich is an instrument for these men, not yet a rival. Binet will introduce us to the assassins.

They are men from Czechoslovakia and Slovakia, who are willing to risk their lives parachuting back into enemy territory to kill a man responsible for so much misery. As he gets to know them, he becomes attached to them. He wants to save them. He wants to write their life after their acts of heroism. He could create a hidden door that will allow them to escape.

He could change the circumstances and give them a chance to fight their way clear I remember years ago H. Brands, who frequently shows up on the History Channel, was discussing the death of Lincoln.

He must have been researching him for his Ulysses S. Grant biography, but one of the things that he talked about that really stuck with me was that he found himself tearing up as he wrote about the assassination of Lincoln. That event that he knew so well still inspired an emotional reaction in him that caught him by surprise. This book was a constant struggle to write.

Binet tries to adhere to his own self-imposed rules. He questions everything he has written. He wants to do it right. His perspective outside of the novel shifts. I can relate to that. I question my life all the time. Why do I do this? Is what I write really worthwhile?

Will someone see through the facade and ridicule me? Am I worthy of the subject? The same is true of this book: the story is cruel, the protagonists are moving, and I am ridiculous. But I am in Prague. I want to close with one last quote from Binet about the responsibility that writers feel for those they leave in the shadows.


Laurent Binet



HHhH by Laurent Binet – review


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