My fascination with Nazism began with when learning about Nazism when learning the history of World War II. While I was going through the reading list, I came across a novel by Laurent Binet called, “HHhH”. The intriguing title sparked an interest of what it could stand for, hence this investigation started. What was prominent was that “HHhH” stood for. This German acronym also translated into “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.” The title provides us with the historical context and setting of this novel. What struck me as the most interesting aspect was how Nazism was portrayed. After researching more about the author and the book, I learnt that the author was French. Then, I realised that the narrative was from the perspective of the Czechs not the Nazis. This twist in the conventional narrative perspective further heightened my interest. This challenged my already preconceived notion of Nazism and gave me a completely different perspective. The choice to use “HHhH” and “Time’s Arrow” as a point of comparison was due to the different narrative perspective and portrayals of Nazism. To further challenge my preconceived notions on Nazism, I intend to investigate the question: “How does the characterisation of the narrator influence the distancing from the reader and our perception of Nazism?”. In my exploration, I found more differences than similarities. This essay was thus not to compare the similarities of both novels, but to use them as the key frameworks to help answer the question raised in the preceding sentence in a critical and deeper light.
Portrayal of Nazism
“HHhH” and “Time’s arrow” (portrays Nazism in two different ways. )One way is through…. another way is through… Binet incorporates a mixture of narrative perspective while focusing on one aspect of the character, thus reduces the proximity between the author and the reader. HHhH recounts the true story of the Operation Anthropoid in the form of a research as a writing process strengthens the author’s emotional ties to the novel. This further allows the author to become devotedly engaged with his story’s characters, setting, themes and plot. HHhH is Reinhard Heydrich, the “butcher of Prague”, a man who (physically and ideologically embodied the Nazi regime)—-elaborate. Reinhard Heydrich was known as the Blond Beast, the Butcher of Prague, and Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand Nazi. Laurent Binet’s HHhH—Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich (Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich)—is at once an exhaustive historical novel on the rise and fall of a fundamental figure of the Nazi Party during the Holocaust and a reflection on the efforts involved in writing such a compelling and significant historical tale. The narrative both fascinates and disgusts; Heydrich’s career in the Third Reich was overwhelmingly “successful.” Once he joined the SS as a foot soldier, he rose startlingly quickly through the ranks, and went on to hold many powerful office positions where his actions greatly enhanced the control and reach of the Nazi government. In many situations, his ruthlessness was unsurpassed; on occasion, no mercy was given to Aryan citizens who disobeyed the government.The book traces the planning, execution and aftermath of Operation Anthropoid, the resistance’s successful plot to assassinate Heydrich in Prague, the city he commanded as Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. The two heroes of the novel are Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, the almost unbearably brave assassins, but Heydrich, in all his horror, is the central character. While Binet chronicles Heydrich’s unstoppable military progress, he also includes anecdotes involving his personal life that contrast with his professional façade.Binet’s portrayal of Heydrich also shows him as an easy target, a man who took himself too seriously. These two men, who are profiled as the real heroes of the book, assassinated Heydrich in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses in June 1942. The assassination attempt reads like an absurd thriller: A tram car pulls in front of one parachutist, a gun jams, an explosion erupts, the car driver attacks, and witnesses become involved. Despite this mayhem, the parachutists succeeded, and Heydrich died from his wounds. The retribution was brutal. Despite the horrible aftermath, Heydrich’s death was not only a great accomplishment for the Czech Resistance and the Allies but hope for the end of the occupation and the war.Binet chronicles his obsession with Heydrich and the events surrounding his assassination, but he also includes chapters about researching and writing the book (he calls it an “infranovel,” a book inside his book). In the chapters where he reflects on historical writing, Binet wonders to what extent his occasional fictionalization of actual events is correct. Binet allows this barely believable story to carry him and us along with it. In fear of portraying a particular version of events, he revels in the details he can lay claim to, with an almost stately detachment; it’s as if he is giving the barest stage directions to history. Martin Amis is a postmodern writer who deals with the history and its storytelling. This conception of the Holocaust informs the postmodern style and the subject matter of Time’s Arrow, manifesting in the ruptured temporality of the narrative and the ruptured subjectivity of its main character, both of which hinge on the narrator/protagonist’s participation in the Nazi genocide.Time’s Arrow gives us an account of the unending offensive torture faced by Jews who put to death in the concentration camps. The novel relates the story of a Nazi doctor, Odilo Unverdorben, working backward from the end of his life through his time serving at Auschwitz, right back to his birth in the years between the First and Second World Wars. Odilo’s experience before, after, and particularly during World War Two turns him into a ruptured subject. As a doctor, he is both a healer and a killer, a family man turned solitary war criminal who changes his name and flees to the United States. When Time’s Arrow begins, the character has become so alienated from his own body and identity that the first-person narrator only partially recognizes himself in/as the body he occupies. Healing becomes violence, the Holocaust unfolds as the creation of a people rather than their destruction, and the war haunting Odilo’s past becomes the narrator’s future. War is always looming but has also already happened, and the entire world of the novel appears trapped in a perpetual state of crisis. Inconceivable disaster lays both ahead and behind, and Odilo’s life-line cuts history and future possibility short. The Holocaust represents a major cultural crisis in Time’s Arrow, but Nazi genocide is not the only source of catastrophic trauma. The shadow of nuclear war also falls across the narrative. Amis alludes to a continuity between this ever-present nuclear threat and World War Two when he inserts a reference to the Holocaust museum in Israel in the midst of an argument against nuclear proliferation (26). Amis’s reflections on war, time, and the nuclear age in this earlier essay prefigure the narrational ruptures in Time’s Arrow and Odilo’s relationship to war, suggesting that the novel is concerned with the effects of the Cold War as well as World War Two. Something certainly has “gone wrong” with the narrator’s experience of time, and his anticipation of massive destruction is perpetual—even in the midst of Odilo’s work at Auschwitz. Linking problems with time to the Holocaust and to the threat of nuclear destruction, Time’s Arrow implicates both in apocalyptic rupture and the continuity between apocalypse, Holocaust and nuclear annihilation in Time’s Arrow is most explicit when Odilo is in Portugal; for the protagonist the war has already happened, but the narrator imagines that Odilo’s mind and body are “preparing for war” and implies the revelation of the doctor’s role in the atrocities at Auschwitz (Amis 106). Here, the narrator reflects on the bombing of Japan and its implications, suggesting that the use of the atom bomb marks, or may bring on, “the end of the world” (106). This passage brings the war, the Nazi genocide, the beginning of the nuclear threat, and the possibility of nuclear holocaust together in apocalyptic terms. Later the text imagines the Nazi Holocaust more directly, alluding to what apocalypse might look like: Narrator-Odilo arrives at Auschwitz to find that “human life was all ripped and torn” (116); he sees the “nearest ruins” “fuming” and “glowing” and “ordure everywhere” (116-17), and the devastation within this “fiercely corecentric” universe is so great that it seems to exceed human 5 control (123). In fact, as the novel suggests, such devastation reaches far beyond the historical context of the death camps. He sees the Nazis, in contrast, as ‘creators’ engaged in “dreaming rather than destroying a race” (Amis 120). In the novel’s reversed temporality, creation and destruction are confused and combined. Through this confusion, the destabilization of time, and the imagery of war and violence, Time’s Arrow entwines postmodernity and genocide as causes and effects of the perpetual apocalyptic condition.
-How the narrator increases our appreciation for these two different portrayals.
By reducing the proximity between the author and the reader, Binet engages the audience to sympathize with the characters strengthens the audience’s emotional ties as well as increasing our appreciation for portrayals of Nazism. Instead of using concrete and absolutist terms to describe the Nazis, Amis uses the inverted narrative in order to give the opportunity to allow readers the ability to think about the multiple ways in which the catastrophe can be narrated and misinterpreted.