Novel set in Berlin, Germany (he’s back; he’s führious)

4th May 2014

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes, novel set in Berlin, translated by Jamie Bulloch.

This is such a hard book to review! Translated superbly by Jamie Bulloch (whose work we have encountered in the Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, also set in Berlin) it has a wonderfully fluid writing style. It also has a cover that is so eye catching and raises a few eyebrows when folks catch sight of the stylised hair; and, really, is that the matching moustache? I KNOW the question you are dying to ask and it certainly is who you think it is delineated on the cover! Is this a risky book cover???? Would love to hear what you think!

IMG_1438It’s 2011 and (the real) Adolf Hitler awakens from some unaccounted slumbers and finds himself in a park in full regalia. A newspaper vendor, who has a kiosk in the park, takes him under his wing and soon sets up a meeting for him with a TV production company. They are fully of the belief that this Adolf is clearly a committed Method Actor who takes his art super seriously and pretty immediately they give him a slot on the Gagmez TV show. Adolf’s media presence balloons, just as it did in the 1930s. He soon insinuates himself into the public eye, and his appearances become the hot topic for discussion across society.

In essence this is a satirical look at celebrity and the role the media plays in bringing and then maintaining certain people in the media spotlight. It’s comical side in part stems from Hitler observing 21st century German (and international) culture through the lens of someone who has missed the build up to the modern day for the last 50 years or so. He cannily observes the politicians, there are wry comments about Chancellor Angela being a shapeless old trout; or Putin being a sop to his fellow countrymen by posing without his shirt on (remember those photos?). Hitler goes on, for example, to have an internal dialogue about how Putin can justify these snaps, and imagines he might have said “Look, my dear fellow countrymen, I have made the most extraordinary discovery: my policies look better without a shirt on.” There are ramblings and observations aplenty – he comes back time and again to all these women in the park who pick up the turds of their pet dogs (perhaps they have been sterilised, muses Hitler to explain their apparently errant actions).

So, how well does this book work for an English audience? If you are into German culture and enjoy exploring German quirkiness through fiction, then I think it will hit the spot. Bild Zeitung gets a good mention and that is a newspaper worthy of a book itself. However, there could be many references that might pass over the heads of those who know little of German mores and this may feel unsatisfactory.

But the final, over-arching question has to be: how comfortable is it that Adolf Hitler is the main protagonist? The author is skilled at walking a knife-edge between humour/satire, and bad taste. But there are occasions where I could feel the prickles of discomfort just beginning to bubble. It has its amusing moments which many will enjoy, yet it will be appalling to others, this, a satirical book about one of the most evil men who ever lived… but this, Adolf, curmudgeonly as he is in 2011, can still garner acolytes, and one has to wonder what that says about all of us who buy into the cult of celebrity.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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