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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 02-02-13

Himlers Hirn heisst Heydrich

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Ellen
  • COLCHESTER, CT, United States
  • 09-17-12

Spellbinding & Unique Narrative

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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His sideshow was bigger than his main act

More time spent on useless asides than on the main story. It was a rambling, convoluted account of a very interesting story

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Weird storytelling just didn't work for me.

Would you try another book from Laurent Binet and/or John Lee?

No.

What do you think your next listen will be?

WOOL Omnibus Edition.

Would you be willing to try another one of John Lee’s performances?

Sure there was no issue with the narrator.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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CIRCLES OF HELL

Judging from Laurent Binet’s “HHhH”, Hitler may be the only WWII leader who earns a lower place in Dante’s circles of hell than Reinhard Heydrich. Except for those steeped in history, the name Reinhard Heydrich does not resonate like Eichmann, Goebbels, Himmler, and Hitler. Heydrich is Hitler’s action-man, an organizer and perpetrator of the “final solution” that exemplifies the world’s shame.

Heydrich is called the “blond beast”, an image suggesting a golden-haired Teutonic giant wielding a canister of Zyklon B in one hand and a German Luger in the other. When looking at a picture of Heydrich, the image seems in error. Pictures of Heydrich show a man who is far from handsome with a receding hairline, enormous nose, and tiredly furtive eyes. Heydrich’s tight lipped, unsmiling, and elongated face is menacing. He looks like a stern father or teacher; capable of whipping or smacking knuckles of a child with a leather belt or an 18” ruler. Based on Binet’s “HHhH”, Heydrich is considerably worse than a stern father or teacher. Heydrich is a mass murderer with an education equal to Leopold and Loeb, a murdering mentality rivaling Pol Pot, and a policy instinct reminiscent of Joseph Stalin.

The denouement of Binet’s book is the attempted assassination of Heydrich by two Czechoslovakian patriots, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis. These two men, one is Czech and the other Slovak, know they are unlikely to survive the attempt but become symbols of allied resistance to German occupation. An interesting aspect of this novel, other than its factual reporting, is Binet’s first person narration that is concerned with history’s fictionalization. It is a panegyric on the impossibility of truly writing an accurate history of historical events.

In the end, Binet’s factual veracity seems better than average but he acknowledges his story is, after all, a historical novel, a fictionalized presentation of actual events. In spite of history’s reporting limitations, a listener will know a lot more about Reinhard Heydrich after reading or listening to “HHhH”.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Difficult to follow

What would have made HHhH better?

It was very difficult to follow. It jumped around a lot.

What was most disappointing about Laurent Binet’s story?

Not sure if something was lost in the translation, but it did not really hold my interest.

Would you be willing to try another one of John Lee’s performances?

yes

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

disappointment

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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very good historical novel

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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I liked basic story, writing style drove me nuts

Would you try another book from Laurent Binet and/or John Lee?

lee yes-he did a fine job
Binet--only with a gun to my head

What was most disappointing about Laurent Binet’s story?

the stream of consciences style--if he had whined anymore about the color of the car I was going to hurl, and then to spend pages on his imagined wishful end to the story--who cares?

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from HHhH?

Any of the multitudes of tangents that we were force to go on

  • Overall
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A great historical non-fiction/novel/memoir/diary

Any additional comments?

An incredible book. I got the sense early on that this would be one of those books I'd be recommending for the rest of my life.

It's a book about a mission of Czech and Slovakian nationals, who have escaped Czechoslovakia, going back to Prague to assassinate a Nazi leader. Sort of.

It's really a book about how difficult it is to research a book about a well known and celebrated event and actually contribute anything worthwhile to the specific story in particular and the genre in general. Almost.

At its true core, it's a book about how writing historical non-fiction so easily slips into historical fiction because of the relationship the author develops with his characters and the desire to glorify their words and actions. It's the feeling that you have to add some dialogue or back story to a detail which is crucial to the story but completely lacking any corresponding information.

But it's really an homage to the bravery of the men of the mission and the thousands of people of Czechoslovakia who sacrificed so much for their mission. The sense of awe and love that Binet feels for the full cast of characters is evident and never becomes forced or maudlin. He doesn't address it i one of the many asides, but that trick may have been the hardest one of all to pull off!

HHhH is full of brilliant asides, clever deprecations of other books on the subject (complete with longing that he'd let himself get away with action packed dialogue), and a true sense of the respect that Binet felt for the men of Operation Anthropoid. I recommend it fully as an historical account, as an historical novel, and as a personal memoir of the joys and pains of writing each of those types of books.

  • Overall
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Not a real novel

What disappointed you about HHhH?

It felt like I was watching a directors cut for a book.

What other book might you compare HHhH to and why?

Never experienced a book like this

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

Yes and no....because the story is constantly interrupted by references to writing the story or references to other writers and their stories, it is bit tough to stay interested.

What character would you cut from HHhH?

The whole thing

Any additional comments?

This is not a novel, so do not buy this if that is what you are expecting.