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. Techniques of various kinds are held up for summary judgment "faithful to my long-held disgust for realistic novels, I say to myself: Yuk".
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But now he decides it is dishonest to invent descriptions, dialogue, thoughts and feelings on a subject as serious as this. The best he can do, he concludes, is to provide a running commentary on the truth or otherwise of what he is writing.
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.
As the head of the SS security service known as the SD, he showed a special gift for bureaucracy. Always more files! In their 20s, they were picked from a small army of Czechoslovaks who had escaped to Britain in the hope of fighting to free their country.
Germany had by then absorbed the Sudetenland, annexed Bohemia and Moravia, and installed a collaborationist regime in Slovakia. The men knew they were likely to die. They did not know that Operation Anthropoid, as the plot was tagged, was driven by the need of the Czech government-in-exile to impress Churchill. After intense training, Gabcik and Kubis were given Czech clothes and new identities, as well as British-made Sten guns.
In late December , they parachuted from an R. It would be five months before they were ready to act, but one thing worked in their favor: Every day, Heydrich was driven to his office in Prague Castle in an open Mercedes-Benz.
Heydrich jumped to his feet, pistol in hand, but Kubis threw a grenade that wounded him. While the two gunmen escaped, Heydrich was rushed to the hospital where, eight days later, he died of an infection. In reprisal, Hitler ordered the execution of 10, people, but he later accepted a lesser revenge: the destruction of the village of Lidice and the murder or deportation of its inhabitants.
Meanwhile, along with five other resisters, Gabcik and Kubis hid in the crypt of a Prague church. But their whereabouts was betrayed, and after a fierce assault by SS storm troopers, three of the resisters were killed and the others committed suicide. Either way, the result is a gripping novel that brings us closer to history as it really happened.
HHhH by Laurent Binet – review