"HHhH" by Laurent Binet

The title stands for “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich” which in English is translated to “Himmler’s Brain is Called Heydrich.” It was originally published in France in 2010 and the English translation more recently in 2012. As the title suggests, the novel is a piece of historical fiction regarding the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, a leader in the SS who was named “Protector Bohemia and Moravia” which was in the then Czechoslovakia, by two men in the resistance, one Czech, one Slovak, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis


What sets this novel far apart from other historical fictional works is the way it is structured. Not only does it tell the story of what happened but it is more of an exploration into the writing of historical fiction as its author approaches the narrative from the perspective of how he came to write the novel. There are digressions, interludes and critical looks at other novels about the same topic and how he came to sift through what is novelistic invention and what is historical fact. However, the story he is writing about moves along with the pace of a spy thriller, enhanced by Binet’s research and other anecdotes which help the reader better understand what actually happened. 


It is by far one of the more interesting historical novels I’ve read in a very long time and the reader feels that they are learning more about this event as the author himself is as he did the research to write it. I also enjoyed the analysis of the various historical fiction novels and how much they tend to invent and dramatize when the actual facts are hard to obtain. Somewhere along, he refers to what he is writing as an “infranovel”, where the facts sometimes crosses over into the realm of fiction. All in all it is a highly entertaining and very well written book and those interested in the history of World War II will find great enjoyment in this. I know I did. Definitely something different for the genre. 

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