HHhH, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (5 ratings)


Two men have been enlisted to kill the head of the Gestapo.

This is Operation Anthropoid, Prague, 1942: two Czechoslovakian parachutists sent on a daring mission by London to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich - chief of the Nazi secret services, 'the hangman of Prague', 'the blond beast', 'the most dangerous man in the Third Reich'.

His boss is Heinrich Himmler but everyone in the SS says 'Himmler's brain is called Heydrich', which in German spells "HHhH".

All the characters in "HHhH" are real. All the events depicted are true. But alongside the nerve-shredding preparations for the attack runs another story: when you are a novelist writing about real people, how do you resist the temptation to make things up? "HHhH" is a panorama of the Third Reich told through the life of one outstandingly brutal man, a story of unbearable heroism and loyalty, revenge and betrayal.

It is improbably entertaining and electrifyingly modern, a moving and shattering work of fiction.




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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

This is an intriguing book, falling somewhere between novel, biography and historical text book. Essentially it tells of the attempt by two Czech agents, who had been trained in espionage techniques in London, to assassinate leading Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. Laurent Binet painstakingly prepares his ground, taking us through Heydrich's life story set in the context of the rise of Hitler's Nazis from obscure, marginalised extremists to unassailable government, with some fascinating lessons in espionage technique thrown in along the way.The bizarre title is actually an acronym that became popular in Germany during the late 1930s and early 1940s, standing for "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich" (meaning "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich", a public acknowledgement that Heydrich was the brain behind much of the success ascribed to Himmler). The unconventionality doesn't stop with the title - the book has no page numbers which I found oddly disconcerting, though I can't explain why that should be so.However, the story is told very well, and the reader's attention is engaged and then retained right from the start, despite much of the content dealing with ghastly details about the Final Solution.Overall this is a very impressive debut.

Review by

An account of the assassination attempt on Heydrich (I didn't know how it went, so was in suspense), with frequent amusing discussion of what it means to write an "historical" novel. The author agonises about the presumption of fleshing out scenes to tell a good story, when nobody knows exactly what happened. This tension between the tale and the telling is a clever dance which never falters.

Review by

Establishing a new genre, the infranovel (his own term), Laurent Binet gives a very moving and often harrowing account of Jozef Gabcík and Jan Kubis's escape from the Nazis, their training in Britain, and their careful preparations to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, one of the highest-ranking Nazis in the Third Reich, which so very nearly failed. Binet describes his research process and his attempts to put historical facts to paper without reducing the characters to mere names in a historical novel; the result is a curious and very personal mixture of snippets of fictionalised action and non-fiction, but it works, because Binet immerses himself head to toe in the work, and the enthusiasm for his subject and the admiration for the Czechoslovak Resistance fighters is obvious and infectious. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in the Second World War.

Review by

Binet brings the true story of the assassination of Heydrich, Himmler & Hitler's henchman & the author of the final solution, to life in this 'novel' . Mixing factual account with commentary on the events & writing a novel, Binet kept me on the edge of my seat; his narration of the horrors & atrocities of the Nazis & the brave people who resisted fascism was powerfully told & gripping.

Review by

Whilst part of the way through reading HHhH, my husband enquired what the point of the book was. After thinking hard for a moment I struggled to give him a clear answer. Is it the story of a writer's experience of writing an historical novel? Is it an historical factual account, or a fictional account of a historical event? Is it an alternative account of the Third Reich during WWII, told from the specific viewpoint of the Czechs? Is it a biography of the rise and fall of Heydrich, the Blonde Beast, Hangman of Europe, Butcher of Prague? Is it a critique of the traditional techniques employed in writing historical texts? Is it simply a thrilling spy novel? Now that I've finished the book, I would say that it's all these things and more. This book is nothing short of a total game changer, turning literary history completely on its head and creating a new genre of its own.It's brave, it's audacious (Binet has no fear in head-on negatively critiquing his successful literary predecessors), it's thrilling, it's unique, it's page-turning, and above all its eminently readable.HHhH is written in the story within a story format, with Binet narrating his struggles to do justice to the story of an assassination attempt on Reinhard Heidrich by a Czech and Slovak parachuted in from London. So many story lines are interwoven within the narrative - the accession of Heidrich through the ranks of the Third Reich, the lead up to the Final Solution, the political divisions within Czechoslovakia, the Czech Resistance movement, the increasing expansion of the Third Reich within Europe, and Binet's analysis of the right and wrong ways to write a book about a key historical event.This story could have ended up like so many other non-fiction history books - either jam-packed full of endless detail that becomes tedious and impossible to remember, or else with facts sacrificed where it suits to create a more thrilling fictional account. Binet eyeballs both alternatives and decides to create a third option instead; he increases the tension with fictionalised firsthand detail on occasion, but then immediately admits to the reader where he's 'padded', and he also bins most of the factual detail that's irrelevant to his ultimate storyline, however tempting it may be to cram in all those facts he's meticulously researched.It all sounds a bit barmy - and it is - but it's a format that totally works. He includes just the right amount of detail and literary brilliance to put you right there as a fly on the wall of every scene. I was gripped from the first page to the last, and every part of my brain feels like it's had a workout. I'm now informed about part of WWII that I didn't know much about previously, I'm emotionally exhausted from feeling like I was standing on the sidelines of a James Bond-esque mission of heroic daring, and I can't stop thinking about how it's still possible for someone to take such a hugely new approach to writing. The whole time I was reading this amazing book I kept thinking "THIS is how we should be teaching history to our children". I am consistently frustrated by my inability to remember historical facts, yet Binet's writing style is so enveloping I feel confident there are many facts from this corner of history that are now indelibly imprinted in my mind. Binet is the cool, funky, history teacher you never had - but you have now.5 stars (which astounds me - I don't even really like historical or thriller genres)

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