Laurent Binet launched the 2013 Sydney Jewish Writers’ Festival last night before a packed audience. The critically acclaimed French author spoke with Dr Avril Alba about his first novel, HHhH, which was awarded the Prix Goncourt du premier roman 2010.
is an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich or ‘Himmler's brain is called Heydrich’ and refers to Reinhard Heydrich: Himmler’s right-hand man, head of the Gestapo, an architect of the Holocaust – and the subject of the book.
The novel is not a straight history but a postmodern literary fiction. Alongside the terrible, riveting story of Heydrich’s Nazi career and the assassination plot against him runs another compelling yet amusing story about the art of writing itself: when you are a novelist writing about real people, how do you resist the temptation to make things up? Binet was determined not to make anything up about Heydrich, but wanted to be exact and avoid mistakes. Yet can an author ever do justice to history?
During the Q & A, a member of the audience asked Binet about his style, which they found confronting because they felt it didn’t fit in a book about so serious a subject as the Holocaust. Binet explained that this writing style helps him connect and play with the audience. And we agree that irrespective of his playful style, Binet deals with the horrific period of history about which he writes with respect, dignity and sensitivity.
Watch this short video to get an idea of his playful style.
Binet told the enraptured audience that when he began writing about Heydrich, he did not realise how central he was to all the plans of the Third Reich. His extensive research contributed to the 10 years it took to write the book. Although Heydrich’s pivotal role in all aspects of the Nazi regime from Kristallnacht to the Final Solution is lesser known than Eichmann or Himmler, Binet argues that Heydrich was a zealous Nazi and not merely following orders, disputing Hannah Arendt’s theory of the ‘banality of evil’.
Today Binet is working on a second work which more playfully examines the intersection between fiction and history. We, along with his many fans, can’t wait to read it!
Binet ended the night signing copies of his book at the Festival bookshop, run by Lindfield Bookshop, for the audience who were entranced by his French accent and more.
Copies of all the books by the SJWF authors are on sale on Sunday 1 September. Tickets for single sessions or a day pass can be bought at the door. We can’t wait to see you! www.sjwf.org.au
Photos courtesy of David Sokol.