Book Review - HHhH: Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich

Submitted by Paul Murray on Wed, 20/04/2016 - 9:31am

HHhH is the unusual title of a very interesting historical novel by French author Laurent Binet. The title is an acronym from the German phrase "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich," (Himmler's brain is called Heydrich), which refers to the apparently commonly held belief among Nazi officials that the intellectual acuity behind the malevolent policies of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler were instigated by his 2IC Reinhard Heydrich.

The focus of the book is on an assassination attempt on Heydrich by Czech/Slovak agents who parachute into Czech territory during the German occupation in WWII in which Heydrich is the self-proclaimed ruler of Bohemia and Moravia...territory now known as the Czech Republic and more recently Czechia. (Heydrich's official title was Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, but he his behaviour was more like that of a king...he even established his family a home in Prague Castle).

HHhH is an interesting novel because of the fascinating story of the assassination plot, but also because it is a book about the challenges and process of writing a historical novel. Binet makes numerous references to the license such writers have in recounting history and freely admits to using imagination to recreate events and the associated dialogue of the protagonists and other key characters.

Binet is the son of a historian and his father has evidently inspired him to meticulous historical research and intellectual enquiry as to not only what happened, but why. He meanders through numerous distracting asides in the telling of the story and includes many of his own thoughts, emotions and sentiments, which is rather unorthodox and unusual in this type of novel, but Binet makes it interesting and eventually brings it all together effectively to produce a compelling tale.

HHhH was awarded the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman French prize for a debut novel in 2010.

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