War Stories

Hardback copies of the novels 'HHhH' by Laurent Binet and 'Fatelessness' by Imre Kertész.

Above are two novels in translation I’ve read recently set in World War II: HHhH by Laurent Binet and Fatelessness (aka Fateless) by Imre Kertész. These editions were published in 2012 and ‘05 respectively. Both were acquired second-hand at the excellent Broadleaf Books in Abergavenny.

HHhH relates the rise to prominence of the notorious high-ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, and follows the ultimately successful plot to assassinate him. The story is thinly fictionalised in a post-modern sort of a way with numerous asides about the author’s misgivings in mixing invention with historical fact, and about the practicalities of writing of the book and of the research behind it – sort of like seeing a movie intercut with scenes from its own ‘making-of’ featurette. How much one enjoys the result will depend, I think, on how well one gets along with Binet’s authorial presence. A few irritating instances aside, I got along with him very well. The story of the assassination is an inherently gripping one, and Binet conveys its high-stakes intensity in fine style.

The plans laid by Heydrich resulted in a flood-tide of death and suffering when they were set into motion. His death was untimely inasmuch as it came too late to help the millions of people affected, though who knows how much more damage he could have done had he lived longer. Fatelessness concerns one person’s experience of Heydrich’s murderous legacy. A 14-year-old Jewish boy from Budapest, initially more bemused than alarmed by the proliferating rules and restrictions imposed on him and his family, finds himself part of a large group of Jews rounded up and put on a train to Auschwitz. Kertész had himself endured a similar ordeal. His narrator has a detached outlook and a relatively dispassionate ‘voice’, which (so it seemed to me) provided some insulation for the reader from the appalling subject-matter. Even so, I found it a difficult story to read.