Book of the week : Look Who’s Back - Timur Vermes

Summer 2011. Berlin. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of ground, alive and well

Things have changed - no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman. People certainly recognise him, though - as a brilliant, satirical impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable, happens, and the ranting Hitler takes off, goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own TV show, becomes someone who people listen to. All while he’s still trying to convince people that yes, it really is him, and yes, he really means it

The bewildered Fuehrer, meanwhile, has to adjust to modern society, its gadgets, people, multiculturalism and social media addiction,  and slowly planning, naively, clumsily, but with chilly calculation, his return to power, thus delivering a commentary on modern Germany that is equally frightening and hysterical

Vermes’ novel isn’t really about Hitler at all, which is fine. It’s a look at the media and how, almost believably, if someone like Hitler were to suddenly return how things may pan out for them

Seeing Hitler in his 1940s mindset interact with the contemporary age, similar to seeing Socrates and Billy the Kid stumble their way through 1980s mall strip California in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, is undoubtedly amusing, but at the same time it scathingly satirises an increasingly dumbed-down, historically uninformed or indifferent multi-media generation that is too distracted by reality TV, sensationalist headlines and Facebook Likes to see the danger the ‘born again’ Fuehrer really poses

Needless to say, there’s a debate whether it is acceptable to make Hitler a subject of comedy. But it’s been done before countless times, with The Producers, with The Dictator, some more gratuitous, some with enough satire in them to render them more ‘acceptable’. If anything, what’s ‘new’ about Look Who’s Back, it’s only that the Germans are increasingly seen to have a sense of humour about their own history. Not in a belittling or insensitive manner, mind. Hitler and the Holocaust continue to remain a serious subject over there, deeply embedded in the German mentality and Constitution. But the ridiculous and unhelpful self-flagellation by people who were barely the glint in daddy’s eye in 1945, (think Harry Enfield’s Jurgen the german) undermining any approach of the subject in a grown-up way, is finally starting to cease; Hitler as a subject of comedy becoming less and less restricted to the terrain of risqué Stewart Lee-type German comedians, and is particularly well-balanced in this novel

Comedy will always remain in the grey areas of acceptability, and perhaps that’s exactly what keeps us on our toes and debating; to speak the truth like a jester, in joke form to escape medieval beheadings or modern censorship. Take from this book what you will, but hopefully you’ll both enjoy and reflect deeply on it. Thoroughly

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