‘I think I’m beginning to understand. What I’m writing is an infranovel’: Laurent Binet, HHhH and the problem of ‘writing history’

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Literary and cultural representations of the Holocaust have changed considerably over the past decades. Whereas in the early post-war decades the emphasis was mainly on survivor accounts and the attempts to compile factually accurate history books on the events of the Shoah, there has, since then, been more engagement by the second and third generation, but also attempts to approach the Holocaust in fictional writing, a trend initially opposed by many Holocaust scholars. This article will, first of all, engage with the debates for and against Holocaust fiction and then offer a critical close reading of a recent example of Holocaust ‘faction’: Laurent Binet’s 2012 (English translation) novel HHhH, a historical novel trying to come to terms with the responsibility it has towards ‘real’ historical events, and the relative freedoms it enjoys as a novel. It attempts to piece together the little known stories of the Czech and Slovak resistance fighters Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík who assassinated the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, in Prague in 1942. In addition to this historical account, Binet provides a frame narrative that emphasises his, at times, obsessive research on the project but steers clear of it being a purely factual account by applying postmodern literary techniques to query not only his own story but the process of both fiction writing and history making. As such, he offers a running commentary on and self-reflective assessment of the problems facing the historical researcher, especially when that historical writer is also concerned with writing a ‘story’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0
Pages (from-to)74-87
Number of pages14
JournalHolocaust Studies
Issue number1-2
Early online date21 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


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