Another Broadway Book Club choice, HHhH I can only describe as uniquely annoying. I can't even decide what my overall feelings about it were, they swung from admiration to hatred so frequently.
HHhH (eventually) tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, a daring
assassination attempt on the life of super-Nazi extraordinaire Reinhard
Heydrich in Prague during World War II. The part that has a narrative follows
the history of Operation Anthropoid, picking up a few historical strand from
elsewhere as it rolls along, and looks at the lives, histories and
circumstances of heroic parachutists and would be assassins Jozef Gabčík and
Jan Kubis. Binet is also careful to pay proper tribute to all the Czech and Slovak civilians that risked their own necks and the necks of their families in the name of resistance and paid the price.
I felt like I learned a lot from this book- did I ever mention how bad my
history was? I didn't know Russia was even *in* WW2 until I played Call of
Duty: World at War. Not my strong suit. The diplomatic and social history of
the now non-existent Czechoslovakia is really interesting, as is the history
and the career of one of the only men who can claim to be more evil than
Hitler. Apparently it was Heydrich that masterminded and executed "The
Final Solution" towards the end of the War. His several nicknames (The
Blond Beast, The Hangman, The Butcher of Prague) don't really do justice to the
absolute walking ball of evil that was Heydrich.
But what of the annoyance? Well. Throughout the entire novel, Binet bemoans
the fact that all historical novels are riddled with painful inaccuracies,
speculation and embellishment. And so they may be. But it's not of particular
importance to the people that read them. Binet seems torn throughout- he is
obviously an indisputable expert, borderline obsessive about the story of this
particular mission. Should he have just written a factual book about Operation
Anthropoid? I think he should have...I think he would have been happier with that, maybe he would have felt that he was doing a greater service to his heroes.
HHhH is insanely thoroughly
researched, you have to give him that. But to constantly berate the concept of
fiction, to make your hatred of literature (both with and without a capital L)
known repeatedly throughout- I think, just antagonises the reader. I like
fiction. That's why I'm reading whatever this book is. A non-fiction novel? I
dunno. Just don't make out that your story, or your information, or whatever it
is is too noble, too worthy or just far too important to stoop to the murky
depths of fiction.
Half of the book is the story of the assassination mission. This is very
good- expertly told, informative, full of heroism and suspense. 25% is Binet
moaning about fiction, the inaccuracy, the embellishment, the speculation, the
unworthy authors that have smeared his precious fact. 25% is a biography of the
book. It's like Binet is a character in a book who's currently writing a book
about Heydrich's assassination. He talks about his trips to Prague, to museums,
to cafes. He talks about his girlfriend, his friends, his father.
it's unusual. Binet's obviously a gifted storyteller, which is what makes his attacks on the concept of fiction so annoying. Is he being ironic? Is he saying that nobody can ever know for sure what happened in the annals of history, but he knows more than most, and though he hates embellishment he's going to embellish anyway and then moan about it and we'll never know where the history ends and the fiction begins? I honestly can't tell if I liked it or not, but it was certainly interesting.