In 1942, the RAF parachuted two Czech soldiers back into their homeland on a daring mission to kill hated Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich. Known as the ‘Hangman of Prague’, Heydrich had efficiently and ruthlessly quashed the Czech resistance and presided over the country with iron control. The parachutists are aided by what is left of the Czech resistance, but still, it takes many months before they are able to prepare and carry out the assassination.
This riveting true story grips you right till the end. Whether they completed their mission or failed, both men were well aware that it was likely to end in their deaths and the deaths of those who had helped them. My lack of historical knowledge also added to the suspense and I fought the urge to flick to the end of the book or check Wikipedia throughout.
Binet recounts the details of Operation Anthropoid passionately. In the opening pages, he states that this story has fascinated him since childhood and he’s had the urge to share it with the rest of the world ever since. This is where it diverges from the standard historical fiction format. Right from the very beginning and throughout this novel, Binet inserts himself and his own anguish about whether his retelling does justice to the memory of the two brave men and their many known and unknown supporters. Strangely enough, the flip-flopping back and forth from journalistic recount to narrative angst doesn’t detract from this story. Instead, the extra details he lets ‘slip’ into the novel seem only to heighten the sense that we aren’t really in a novel, but are in fact a witness to the real events of history.
Metafiction and writing about what you’re writing about may have been done before, but Binet still manages to create a fresh and exciting ride. He has clearly succeeded in doing justice to his own goal of keeping alive the memories of these real men and women. He has also succeeded in adding something to the craft of writing itself, and has been justly rewarded with the prestigious Prix Goncourt. Enjoy.
Reviewed by Spot
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HHhH by Laurent Binet, 2012
About the Author
HHhH is Laurent Binet's first novel. He lives and works in France. He has spent many years teaching French literature at high school and university.
Read an interview with the Guardian