HHhH: "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich," or "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich." The most dangerous man in Hitler's cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich was known as the "Butcher of Prague." He was feared by all and loathed by most. With his cold Aryan features and implacable cruelty, Heydrich seemed indestructible - until two men, a Slovak and a Czech recruited by the British secret service - killed him in broad daylight on a bustling street in Prague, and thus changed the course of History.
Who were these men, arguably two of the most discreet heroes of the twentieth century? In Laurent Binet's captivating debut novel, we follow Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš from their dramatic escape of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to England; from their recruitment to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone, from their stealth attack on Heydrich's car to their own brutal death in the basement of a Prague church.
A seemingly effortlessly blend of historical truth, personal memory, and Laurent Binet's remarkable imagination, HHhH- an international best seller and winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman - is a work at once thrilling and intellectually engrossing, a fast-paced novel of the Second World War that is also a profound meditation on the nature of writing and the debt we owe to history.
©2009 Editions Grasset et Fasquelle. Translation from the French copyright 2012 by Sam Taylor (P)2012 Tantor
"This fluid translation by Taylor is a superb choice for lovers of historical literary works and even international thrillers. Most highly recommended." (Library Journal)
“Captivating . . . [HHhH] has a vitality very different from that of most historical fiction.” (The New Yorker)
“[HHhH is] a marvelous, charming, engaging novel.” (Los Angeles Times)
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
An interesting narrative about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The title comes from the SS phrase: "Himlers Hirn heisst Heydrich" ("Himmler's brain is called Heydrich"). Instead of telling the story as a straight historical narrative, Laurent Binet weaves himself throughout the main narrative. It becomes in parts a contrived post-modern mediation on truth, fiction, and the author. I want to give Binet points for trying to create a novel that possesses gravitas, is interesting, is tense, but also isn't traditional. Throughout the novel I was cheering for Binet like I was cheering for Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, but while Binet takes huge risks with this novel he just doesn't cleanly land his bold quadruple H.
More time spent on useless asides than on the main story. It was a rambling, convoluted account of a very interesting story
I loved the way the author told this story. The narrator of the story is a writer who has the facts about the real events that took place in this WW2 story and then builds the back story of the main characters. While being as factual as he can be he acknowledges that he has to create some of what the characters were likely thinking or feeling. This is why it is a novel and not a non-fiction history. He tells us what he is doing and I found the commentary he interjected while writing the story very entertaining. I really am not explaining this well; suffice is to say I really enjoyed this book. I was anxious to go back to it everytime I had to put it down.
The reader did a great job. He was very easy to listen to and captured the tone of the story perfectly.
WOOL Omnibus Edition.
Sure there was no issue with the narrator.
The actual story and history that the book wants to tell is compelling. But the weird method of telling the story gets in the way.
This should have been a much better book considering the story it aims to tell about the assassination of Heidrich. The problem with the book is that the author is writing about his attempt to write this story. In PAINFUL detail. He literally interrupts the story to say things like, "I was going to write that Heidrich had pancakes for breakfast, but I didn't know for sure if that would be historically accurate". I'm not making this up. WTF?? The first three chapters of the book are the author's ramblings about thinking about writing a book. I thought it was just a lengthy FOREWARD or something.
I don't know why he wrote the book this way. It seems like it would have been a compelling story and at times it starts to be, then the author interjects something like, "I wrote this sentence but my girlfriend didn't like it, but I kept it anyway." ugh.
It was very difficult to follow. It jumped around a lot.
Not sure if something was lost in the translation, but it did not really hold my interest.
Binet's wit and unusual way of telling a horrific story is captivating. The book is never dull and John Lee is superb as always. If Audible had five more novels by this duo I would purchase them now.
Interesting take on a pretty well documented subject, ie. the allied plot to assassinate Heydrich, architect of the final solution. Interweaves the historical parts with the author's experiences in writing the book. Some reviewers seemed to dislike this aspect but I thought it added a contemporary emotional dimension to what otherwise could have been a sterile story. Overall, it is good history mixed with thrilling storytelling.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” (George R. R. Martin)
I really liked this audiobook. I thought the narrator and the material were a great fit and I thought the story was told in an interesting fashion. Prior to listening to this audiobook I had never even heard of Reinhard Heydrich, or if I had I certainly didn’t remember him. After listening, I clearly understood how great of a role he played within the Nazi regime. There are also a number of interesting side-stories that Binet recounts that don’t directly relate to Heydrich’s tale but took place during the time and work well with the story – giving it a richer texture. It’s not a surprise that HHhH won the Prix Goncourt and garnered so much high praise from reviewers. It’s entertaining, informative, and well written/translated.
Imagine, if you will, picking up Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and being confronted with passages like, "And so Napoleon decided to invade Russia. Or at least, that's what I think he decided. I wasn't there, so I can't exactly read his mind. All I can do is tell you that he did invade Russia, which is the story I'm going to write about. But it's hard to concentrate on that story just now, because I'm equally fascinated with the lovely, blonde, 20 year-old stenographer I just hired, and she's a tremendous distraction."
That is more or less what one really finds upon commencing this story of how two expatriates parachuted into Nazi-held Czechoslovakia and managed to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, one of the most vital -- and evil -- men in the Reich. It's a worthwhile story, but sadly Laurent Binet's history -- or novel about someone trying to write this history -- or very long diary entry about himself (it's a little hard to say which) only occasionally wanders over to tell that tale.
Binet begins by giving an account of why he decided to tell the story -- he was, he says, captivated by the notion of Jozef Gabcik, one of the two men, lying on his bed and listening to the trolleys outside, as the moment approached when he and his partner would strike at the man known as "the Hangman," "the Butcher of Prague," and "the Blond Beast." And it seems like this is a forward, giving the author's motivations for writing this book before it begins.
Unfortunately, the ENTIRE BOOK reads like this, and it becomes hard to tell after a while if this is supposed to be a serious history of the Heydrich assassination or a first-person account of an author struggling with his muse. In a strange way, it's vaguely reminiscent of a 1976 documentary, "All This and World War II," possibly the only "historical" account stranger than Binet's, which presented World War II newsreels, one after another, set to Beatles music!
Binet's approach is hardly less bizarre, though, than that "battles and Beatles" account. And were that not strange enough, consider annoyances like this: at one point, we're told that the head of British Intelligence was referred to as "M," "just like in the James Bond novels." And that, somewhat in homage to that, Heydrich liked to be referred to as "H." But then a little later, Binet admits that he's been "talking rubbish," and that the head of British Intelligence was actually referred to as "C." And that Heydrich actually liked to refer to himself as "C," too, not "H." How does an author (let alone his editor) justify wasting his reader's time with nonsense like that? And after a time, how can the reader trust anything that Binet says?
It really is unfortunate, because the story of Gabcik, his compatriot Jan Kubis, and the rest of the people who bravely stood up to the Nazi state to help rid the world of a truly evil man is fascinating, and worthy of a serious examination. But Binet's endless asides trivialize these heroes and the many martyrs he supposedly wants to honor, as his narrative gives them more or less the same prominence as his tempestuous relationship with his girlfriend, or his fretting over whether to spend the money to buy the book written by Heydrich's widow.
What a shame to waste the talents of John Lee, one of the best narrators in the business, on this endless series of distractions. Rubbish, indeed.
Binet's struggle to find the truth, to accurately depict, to avoid sentimentality and cliche, to invent a new literary form, is as much a part of this gripping novel as the WW II villains and heroes he writes about. Usually intellectual exercises of this sort fail to engage the emotions, but that is not the case here. A beautifully crafted, heartbreaking, yet ultimately uplifting book, read by the always excellent John Lee.
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