Laurent Binet ( 2009)
Author: Laurent Binet (1972) was born in Paris. He graduated from the University of Paris with a degree in Literature. He teaches French in a Parisian suburb and also at the University of Saint-Denis. Binet was awarded the 2010 Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman for HHhH.
Genre: Historical fiction: Binet is very clear. He does not want to write a history book. This book is a personal project where he blends his visions with proven facts. “Cette histoire-là, j’en fais une affaire personnelle. C’est pourquoi mes visions se mélangent quelquefois aux faits avérés. ” ( pg 146)
Title: HHhH The title is an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich (“Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”), a quip about Heydrich said to have circulated in Nazi Germany. (pg 179). It was suggested as a title by Binet’s publisher instead of the “too sci-fi” working title Opération Anthropoïde.
Table of Contents:
- Part 1: (pp 340) 221 ( correction: 220 because I noticed chapter 8 is missing in my book!!)
- Part 2: (pp 90) 35 chapters.
Part 1 starts with a quote written by Russian poet, essayist Ossip Mandelstam ( 1899 – 1938). It refers to a prose writer and his ablilty to “ jar the tree of history”. I will be curious to see what this means.
Part 2 starts with a quote from Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) Journal ( dd 28 May 1942) ” … an alarming rumor has just arrived from Prague..” Between 1935 – 1944 Geobbels was the motor, goading his reluctant Führer into ever more radical actions against the Jews.
Dedication: None. I sent a tweet to the author for more information. “ I’m not a dedication kind of a guy”. That’s a good answer!
Timeline: 1930 – 1942
Setting: : Nazi-Germany, Czechoslovakia
Themes: History WW II ( rise of Nazi-Germany, Czechoslovakia), Genocide, power of the Resistance
Trivia: Sometimes I just am stunned that I was on this earth at the same time as some of the war criminals mentioned in this book. My only memory is of Adolf Eichmann 1960-61. He was captured in Argentina on 11th of May 1960. Due to the trial (1961) and the surrounding media coverage even children were exposed to his crimes. I remember in primary school some male classmates had his name and swastika written on their school bookbags with indelible magic marker pens. In those days the concept of ´politically incorrect` had not reached our school playground.
- The book recounts the attack sponsored by the head of the Czechoslovak exile government (Edvard Benes) to assassinate intelligence official Nazi Reinhard Heydrich in 1942.
- He was the planner of the final solution. He believed you cannot kill rats with a revolver, but with poison or gas.
- The acronym HHhH ” Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydric “ which means Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.
- This perilous mission called “ Operation Anthropoid ” was entrusted to two young paratroopers a Czech (J. Kubis) and a Slovak (J. Gabcik) who at cost of their lives passed an act of courageous resistance. . It resulted in brutal German reprisals such as the execution of thousands of Czechs and the eradication of the two villages of Lidice and Lezaky.
Jozef Gabcik ( died 18 June 1942, 30 yr.)
Jan Kubis ( died 18 June 1942, 29 yr.)
Reinhard Heydrich ( died 04 June 1942, 38 yr.)
Strong point: Laurent Binet’s commitment to reporting the facts. This book is very documented! Binet carried out an extensive investigation reading as many books about WW II in all languages as he possibly could and watching many films about the era. ( see list) He wanted to understand the spirit of the times. I’ve learned so much while reading this book for instance about Admiral W. Canaris, General Pilsudski, General Skoblin, Edouard Daladier, Theodor Morell (Hitler’s personal physician), Alfred Naujocks (Operation Tannenberg) and Paul Thummel ( Agent-54, high ranking German double agent providing intel to Czech ) just to name a few.
Strong point: While reading the book I noticed that Binet was very good at writing a stellar last sentence in practically all the chapters. It was was like an echo that I kept hearing several times while the message sank in.
Strong point: Laurent Binet expresses his opinions about the facts and I found this very refreshing! He mentions his extreme dislike of Edouard Daladier ( PM of France at the start on WW II) ( pg 120). Emil Hácha (PM of Czechoslovakia 1939 – 1945) was summoned to Berlin by Hitler on March 15 1939. Hácha was effectively ordered to sign Czecholovakia away to Germany. Binet’s tone becomes bitter. “It’s as if the stupidity of (Neville) Chamberlain ( PM of England 1937 – 1940) was contagious…” ( pg 127) Don’t miss pp 324 – 325 in which Binet expresses his scorn for René Bousquet en his hate for Christian Didier !
Strong point: chapter 206… saisissant, invraisemblable…..breathtaking…!!
Films mentioned by Binet:
- Hangmen also die (1943) nominated for 2 Oscars
- The Dictator (1940) nominated for 5 Oscars
- Hitler’s Madmen ( 1943)
- The Pianist (France 2003) won 3 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor
- The Downfall ( Germany (2004) nominated for Oscar Best Foreign film
- The Counterfeiters ( Austria 2007) Oscar Best Foreign Film
- The Black Book (The Netherlands 2006 Zwartboek) nominated for BAFTA
- Patton ( 1970) won 7 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor
- Triple Agent ( 2004)
Books mentioned by Binet:
- Le Livre du rire et de l’oubli ( M. Kundera)
- Histoire de la Gestapo ( J Delarue)
- Le Mors aux dents ( Vladimir Pozner) 1905 – 1992 ( Benit’s model for a successful novel)
- La mort est mon métier (Robert Merle 1976) romanticized biography of Rudolf Hoss
- Leben mit einem Kriegsverbrecher ( Life with a war criminal) by Mrs.Lina van Osten-Heydrich
- La Part de l’autre (Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt )
- Mendelssohn est sur le toit ( Jiri Weil)
- Master of Spies — ( Frantisek Moravec )
- Seven men at daybreak — ( Alan Burgess)
- Salammbo — ( G. Flaubert)
- Like a man — ( D. Chacko)
- Le Silence de la Mer — ( Jan Bruller under pseudonym Vercors. Published secretly in Nazi- occupied Paris)
- Central Europe — ( W. Vollmann)
- Prendre le maquis - (to go underground ) ( le maquis = shrubland, heath of chaparral)
- Porter le chapeau – (to accept the blame for something)
- Je n’arrive pas à mettre la main dessus – ( I can’t lay my hands on it, I can’t find it!)
- Étouffer dans l’oeuf – (to nip in the bud)
- En fin de compte — ( …at the end of the day: – ultimately)
- Autrement dit — ( in other words…)
- J’en ai le souffle coupé — ( I’m at a loss for words!)
- Grand bien leur fasse! ( good for them; …go right ahead!)
- Le point d’orgue — ( an intense moment during an action or series of events; climax)
- Appeler un chat un chat — ( to be frank and direct, to call a spade a spade)
- Le pire cas de figure — (the worst case scenario)
- Virage en épingle à cheveux — ( hairpin turn on the road)
- Manier la carotte et le bâton — ( use the carrot and stick approach)
This book had a curious layout. It may not appeal to every reader. It was a mixture of three things:
- Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942
- Events leading up to the rise of Nazism
- Key figures at the “top” of Hitler’s circle
- Challenges, pitfalls and the reasons why Binet choose to write about the subject.
In the beginning this mixing of narratives was surprising . While I was reading about the historical events, I was abruptly jolted back to 2006 reading about Binet’s investigations and decisions as to how he was going to write the book. This was confusing at times. I took the time to look up information on WIKI while reading. If you don’t do this then I can understand why some readers don’t enjoy the book as much as I did.
If you like history ( lots of Nazi-Germany history !!) and are willing to read something which includes the writer’s regrets, corrections, opinions and hesitations, this is the book to read!
I wanted to mention that I finally learned what Laurent Binet was trying to suggest in the first quote in this book…. Ossip Mandelstam ( 1899 – 1938). It refers to a prose writer and his ablilty to “ jar the tree of history”. Binet tells us on page 244:
“For anything to enter into the memory, first it must be transformed into literature.”
(Pour que quoi que ce soit pénètre la mémoire, il faut d’abord le transfromer en littérature”( pg 244)
…and that is precisely what Binet has done!!
Je tiens à ce livre comme à la prunelle de mes yeux!