03 Jan



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.

 DedicationNone.   I  sent a tweet to the author  for more information.  “ I’m not a  dedication kind of a guy”.  That’s  a good answer!

Timeline1930 – 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)

Johnny Kash

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)

Auto  Heydrich


  • 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!!

Score 5

Je tiens à ce livre comme à la prunelle de mes yeux! 



Chapter 8 missing

Binet reaction


Posted by on January 3, 2014 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “HHhH

  1. Louise Minervino

    January 3, 2014 at 15:29

    Thank you for this review!

    The pictures are excellent as is the list of films and comments.

    The book is a real achievement for the author…. and your review is a wonderful complement to it.

    • N@ncy

      January 3, 2014 at 15:33

      This book was a gem! I had to get used to his style of writing and mindset. Once that was done I just enjoyed this so much. I am a “history buff” and am particularly interested in WW II. While reading HHhH I learned so many new things! That puts it in the 5 star category !!

  2. Amy

    January 4, 2014 at 01:01

    As always, I enjoyed your inclusion of French expressions you learned–that’s interesting even though I don’t read French. (Why are words and their arrangement always so interesting?) This book sounds unusual and fascinating, and I’m sure it doesn’t exist in English yet. 🙂

    • N@ncy

      January 4, 2014 at 08:58

      Kindle, hardcover and paperback…all in English! I had to think often about you b/c so much of the book takes place in Prague! You will loveit!


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