Laurent Binet's HHhH, a historical fiction that loudly grapples with its own classification as such, tells the story of Operation Anthropoid---the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Final Solution in Hitler's regime.
I struggled a bit with the odd self-awareness of the narrator (ostensibly Binet himself, at least according to an interview he gave to the Guardian), but it was a captivating story, interventions to discuss literary theory and the burdens of truth notwithstanding.
"The dead are dead, and it makes no difference to them whether I pay homage to their deeds. But for us, the living, it does mean something," Binet writes.
This morning, I went for a run. My husband stopped at an ATM, and I caught my breath on the corner, listlessly observing the boarded-up houses, an old payphone booth with the receiver ripped off. On one of the booth's metal planes, someone had scrawled a note with a permanent marker. The note was in German. I took a picture because, for one reason or another, it bothered me. At home, on the Internet, I discovered that the words I saw were the official motto of the SS. A strange coincidence, to be sure, that I was reading a book so clearly situated in World War II, the time of the Nazis. I reflected and held the history of it closer to me.
"Memory is of no use to the remembered, only to those who remember. We build ourselves with memory and console ourselves with memory." Grand reclaimings of the genre of historical fiction aside, HHhH is a provocative call to those of us slipping into the close comfort of the here and now.