Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Everyone has heard of Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague.” And most have heard stories of his spectacular assassination at the hands of two Czechoslovakian partisans. But who exactly were the forgotten heroes who killed one of history’s most notorious men?
“When I watch the news, when I read the paper, when I meet people, when I hang out with friends and acquaintances, when I see how each of us struggles, as best we can, through life’s absurd meanderings, I think that the world is ridiculous, moving and cruel. The same is true for this book: the story is cruel, the protagonists are moving, and I am ridiculous” [Chapter 251, Vintage paperback]
I’ve written before about how I find the sheer scale of World War II utterly incomprehensible and this another superb book for bringing to the fore some of the many, many instances of bravery and tragedy. Only this time, they’re real. Heart-breaking in fiction, the non-fiction is all the more devastating. I’m always amazed and inspired by the courage shown by “ordinary” people during war time. Gabcik and Kubiš were astoundingly brave but they were supported by any number of equally courageous people that risked life and limb (and their family’s lives and limbs, incidentally) to offer shelter, food and local support. There’s no way to describe how much I admired the people that I read about in this book. ‘Admiration’ is even too weak a word…
HHhH reads almost like fiction: I felt gripped by the pages and my chest hurt with how desperately I wanted Heydrich’s nemeses to win through. The problem with non-fiction, of course, is that the author can’t decide how their subjects’ lives pan out. I was so caught up in Binet’s account of Gabcik and Kubiš (and so remiss in my WWII history) that I actually had to go and research the story so that I could relax and absorb the detail.
My only slight reservation (that stops this book being a glowing five stars) was that the line between fiction and non-fiction wasn’t always solid. I’ve already said that I loved the writing style but there were occasions where I would read a few chapters only to turn the page and read, “I made that up…but wouldn’t that have been perfect?”. I didn’t mind where the upshot was that dialogue had been added in to flesh out an account of a real event but I was a little disconcerted when it turned out that an event I had just been tearing-up or gawping over turned out to be almost made up. Still, I half think that the point of reading non-fiction is for that moment where you really get caught up in a topic and wander off to do your own digging so it was a feature I could tolerate well enough.
Date finished: 24 March 2013
Pictured Edition Published: by Vintage in January 2013