Writing fiction, making history: historical narrative and the process of creating history

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Almost 70 years on from the end of the Second World War the Holocaust still holds considerable cultural capital. Even though the numbers of actual survivors of the atrocities are now inexorably diminishing, new publications on the Holocaust appear almost every month. In lieu of survivor accounts, the ethically troublesome genre of Holocaust Fiction is gaining ever more ground. Occupying the grey zone between memoir and fiction, Holocaust faction is also getting increasingly popular. As such we have seen the appearance of works of fiction enhanced by factual research on the one hand, and works of factual research more problematically manipulated by fiction on the other as writers try to engage with the Holocaust from ever changing and challenging perspectives.

One of these perspectives is that of the perpetrator – a topic long shunned but now increasingly coming to the fore. Apart from the biographical accounts of children and grandchildren of the real perpetrators, there is now fiction about imagined perpetrators (Jonathan Littell’s vastly influential though no less troubling The Kindly Ones, for example) as well as imagined narratives about ‘real’ perpetrators. This chapter will offer a critical discussion of the different narrative strategies employed by Laurent Binet’s HHhH of 2013 and Patrick Modiano's The Search Warrant of 1997. In this highly original account, Binet focuses on the Czechoslovakian assassins of Reinhard Heydrich whose story, however, is constantly overshadowed by that of their ‘victim’, Heydrich himself. A story about resistance heroes is thus turned, problematically, into a story foregrounding the perpetrator. Through his postmodern historical and fictional detective work of piecing together fact and fiction, Binet problematises the very act of writing historical narratives, the reliability of ‘history’ as well as turning traditional notions of ‘victimhood’ on their head. Modiano's 'novel' pieces together the story of one of the many 'faceless' victims of the Holocaust, Dora Bruder, through an act of historical detective work that, similarly to Binet's work, foregrounds to problems of the researcher.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Critical Thinking: Criticism to Come
EditorsJulian Wolfreys
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)978-0748699650
ISBN (Print)978-0748699643, 978-0748699667
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2017


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