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Sat Oct 25 05:30:50 SAST 2014

Quick review

Aubrey Paton | 11 December, 2012 08:15

THE titular HHhH is Reinhard Heydrich, Butcher of Prague and 2iC to Heinrich Himmler, although he was regarded as the more dangerous of the two: 'Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich' (Himmler's brain is called Heydrich) the Nazi tag went, and Laurent Binet is unsparing in his descriptions of the so-called Blond Beast's cruelty.

THE titular HHhH is Reinhard Heydrich, Butcher of Prague and 2iC to Heinrich Himmler, although he was regarded as the more dangerous of the two: 'Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich' (Himmler's brain is called Heydrich) the Nazi tag went, and Laurent Binet is unsparing in his descriptions of the so-called Blond Beast's cruelty.

This is a meticulously researched account of Heydrich's life, and of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, the two parachutists who assassinated him. Sent from England by the Czech government in exile, the resistance fighters ambushed Himmler's open-topped car as it navigated the streets of Prague. The gun jammed but they tossed a grenade: Heydrich died of septicaemia a week later while the assassins were hidden in a church. When discovered, they fought to the death. In retaliation, the Nazis burnt the village of Lidice to the ground and inhabitants who were not shot were sent to the death camps.

Fascinating as the narrative is, what makes the book compelling is the authorial voice as the reader is privy to the narrator's inner debate over the question of invented dialogue or an imagined portrayal of what real-life characters were thinking or feeling. The narrator rejects imagined scenes. But the authorial comment is entertaining and, one suspects, leavened with a scoop of fiction. HHhH is an excellent novel.

'HHhH' by Laurent Binet, Random House Struik, Exclusive Books, R165

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