Sunday, 27 January 2013
HHhH (The brain of Himmler is Heydrich)
I first heard about HHhH about six weeks ago at Scott Pack's blog Me and My Big Mouth. He'd listed it as Number Two of his top books of 2012. It looked interesting, so I put a hold on it at the library, and it came up surprisingly quickly. I had just begun reading it when I spotted it at The Bluestalking Reader blog, this time because HHhH has made the shortlist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards 2012.
So some pathetic excitement in my life: I've actually read something that's up for an award. The irony, of course, is that HHhH was published in French in 2009; it's the translation that is copyright 2012. I wonder how much of the award is for the author, and how much for the translator (a man from Nottingham named Sam Taylor who has written three novels of his own)?
This book is about Reinhard Heydrich,
To interweave the stories of the marksmen and their target, Binet writes -- not a novel exactly, but a series of impressions about writing a novel about Heydrich and Kubis and Gabčík. In 257 sort of blog posts, Binet veers from Heydrich's childhood and rise to power, to the choice of Gabčík and Kubiš for the suicide mission, from Babi Yar to a brutal and possibly mythical football match between Nazis and Ukranians, from whether Heydrich's Mercedes was black or dark green to which of the Czech families who aided Kubiš and Gabčík (the vast majority of whom were shot or gassed) will be sacrificed from the narrative for brevity's sake.
Does it work? Well, yes. It's a bit distracting at times, especially when Binet hauls us back into the present to stew over details, but the final third of the book as we hurtle toward the assassination and its horrific aftermath is engrossing -- and frankly getting jerked into the present from time to time is a relief.
Will it win the award? Heck, I don't know; I never read the latest books, so I have no idea what the competition is like. This book is worth reading though, whether it wins the award or not.