‘HHhH’ by Laurent Binet

10 May, 2013 by Victoria Love

Harvill Secker, 2013.

'HHhH' by Laurent Binet, 2013.

Fig. P – ‘HHhH’ by Laurent Binet, 2013.
( www.vintage-books.co.uk)

This book cover employs nostalgia and recognition in a different way, but still to good effect. Nostalgia, by definition, is a wistful longing for the past, but there are very few who would long for the Nazi regime.

The book recounts the true story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by members of the Czech resistance in World War Two. Heydrich was one of the main architects of the Holocaust and given the moniker, “The Butcher of Prague”, partly due to his tough stance against the Czech resistance. The title, ‘HHhH’ stands for “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich” alluding to the power that Heydrich truly wielded.

The cover for ‘HHhH’ is exceptionally bold. The simple blurring of the face draws more focus to the SS hat and immediately evokes the negative connotations that are attached to it. Replacing the facial features with a cryptic title, set in stark, bright-red, adds a further layer of intrigue and has covert implications. The jumble of typefaces are all evocative of the Third Reich era, however, it is my belief that they have been misapplied.

The Nazi regime and more broadly, Germany has been inextricably linked with the use of ‘Blackletter’ typefaces, otherwise known as ‘Old English’ or ‘Fraktur’.

Luftschutz (Air-raid Protection) poster. Artist: Ludwig Hohlvein, ca. 1940.

Fig. Q – Luftschutz (Air-raid Protection) poster. Artist: Ludwig Hohlvein, ca. 1940. ( www.dhm.de)

This style of face is far removed from those on the cover of ‘HHhH’ which are more reminiscent of Russian Cyrillic typefaces.

'Political Parody' by Argo. Cover design attr. to Sergey Senkin

Fig. R – Politicheskaia Pariodiia (“Political Parody”) book cover. Design attr. to Sergey Senkin ( www.russianartandbooks.com)

While there is a historical and political connection between the regimes of Germany and Russia during the Second World War, this novel takes place in Germany alone. To use a selection of type that feels Russian is an oversight on behalf of the designer and open to misinterpretation. That being said, I do feel it is successful in creating a sense of unease and evokes the era well. It certainly stands out and I felt some discomfort when looking at the image.

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