Hitler’s Henchman Horrifies Historian (and everyone else)   Leave a comment

The title of Laurent Binet’s debut novel, HHhH, is troublesome. Not so much what it means, which is “Himmlers Hirn heiBt Heydrich” or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich,” but how to say it. The quartet of Hs is baffling. Fortunately, Binet’s writing is not. While it is not entirely comfortable being amused by Hitler and one of his main henchmen, Reinhard Heydrich, Binet provides a work that is rich with historical perspective and editorial comments interjected in a humorous and sarcastic voice.

The narrator’s purpose is to tell the story of Jozef Gabcik, a Slovak, and Jam Kubis, a Czech, who were primarily responsible for Heydrich’s assassination in Prague. The pair was part of a scheme concocted by the British secret service, and, in the narrator’s opinion, nothing short of heroes.

Binet’s approach is to blend historical fact with conjecture. Occasionally, after describing an incident in vivid detail, he writes, “That scene, like the one before it, is perfectly believable and totally made up.” He even apologizes for spending much of the novel detailing Heydrich’s background and rise through the Nazi ranks. He writes, “Heydrich is the target, not the protagonist.” In fact, the heroes do not even appear until one-third through the book. Even then, it’s hard to avoid returning to Heydrich, the man known as “the Butcher of Prague,” among other monstrous adjectives.

Heydrich’s fate, like that of his assassins, is fodder for the history books. Nonetheless, Binet’s strong storytelling ability creates suspense and satisfaction as the events unfold.

Four Bookmarks
Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2012
327 pages


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