Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

imageHe never claims to be anyone other than who he was, and yet this time the German Volk see Adolfo Hitler as a comedian. How is it possible that a man as evil as Hitler is now perceived as funny?

I approached this book with profound trepidation. And yet I was immediately drawn in, for Vermes is not making light of Hitler. He is utterly scorning the 21st century, particularly the media. From radio to television, newspaper to YouTube, his sarcasm lays the game completely bare.

I was reported to be dead. They said I had committed suicide…Was I dead? We all know, of course, what to make of our newspapers. The deaf man writes down what the blind man has told him, the village idiot edits it, and their colleagues in the other press houses copy it. Each story is doused afresh with the same stagnant infusion of lies so that the “splendid” brew can then be served up to a clueless Volk. (p. 26-7)

No, in Vermes’ novel Hitler is not dead. He has reappeared as the Reich Chancellor in Berlin, in his full uniform, and is promptly introduced by a man in the newspaper kiosk whom he has befriended to two gentlemen from a production company. Joachim Sensenbrink and Frank Sawatzki help orchestrate Hitler’s extraordinary reception by the German people who refuse to believe he is who he says he is.

Didn’t this happen once before?

Look Who’s Back is an unflinchingly honest look at Hitler, at people, at media, at our culture today. It is surprisingly funny, if one has the courage to laugh at one’s self, while at the same time cringing from the truth presented without any facade whatsoever. I am refreshed by the audacity and clear perspective that Vermes has used in pointing out to us what we should already know. I think it is a very courageous novel.

IMG_0625 Timur Vermes was born in Nuremberg in 1967, the son of a German mother and a Hungarian father who fled the country in 1956. He studied history and politics and went on to become a journalist. He has written for the Abendzietung and the Cologne Express and worked for various magazines. He has ghostwritten several books since 2007. This is his first novel.

Jamie Bulloch is the translator of novels by Daniel Glattauer, Katharina Hagena, Paulus Hochgatterer, Birgit Vanderbeke, Daniele Krien and Alissa Walser.

Look Who’s Back stunned and thrilled 1.5 million German readers with its fearless approach to the most taboo of subjects. Naive yet insightful, repellent yet strangely sympathetic, the revived Hitler unquestionably has a spring in his step. (Back cover)

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14 thoughts on “Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes”

  1. Not sure why, beyond my infamous warped humour, but this appeals & with its derision of blind media acceptance really appeals.

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    1. The scorn and derision are my favorite parts of this novel; I like it best for how he pokes fun at our technological advances, our society of the 21st century. I’m every period in our history has moments of absolute ridiculousness, but I haven’t read many authors who poke fun so blatantly at today’s issues. From clothing to media to behavior, Vermes leaves nothing untouched. It’s marvelous.

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  2. It’s a very clever book, in that we find ourselves at times nearly (or even fully) agreeing with Hitler. I found it very funny but also very menacing. Recent election results in most of Europe show that the author is quite justified, we have not really learnt from the lessons of the past.

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    1. The part of your comment which strikes me most deeply is that “we have not really learnt from the lessons of the past.” How very terrifying, and I’m sure true. We tend to think that was then, or “it will go away”, when I see the face of Hitler becoming clearer instead of fainter. How could we possibly let such a force rise again?

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  3. I have just abandoned this book. I found it rather flat and superficial, and I have many other books pressing upon me. I agree though that the point made is that some of us have somehow turned Hitler into the goose stepping subject for comedy,while others, especially in Europe, see a need for the return of a strong leader like him. I read a review in The Guardian that many Germans were quite shocked by the tone of this book.

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    1. I’m sure that many Germans were shocked by this book. I was shocked by this book. I read it half appalled, half fascinated, and very impressed by Vermes’ courage to tackle such a subject so head on. When we had a German foreign exchange student in our home several years ago, he said it was not even possible to by Mein Kampfin a German bookstore. So I’m sure the people are very reluctant to talk about him still.

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  4. I’ve read several good reviews of this book, but I don’t know if I can read this book. It certainly sounds very clever, and I would probably enjoy the commentary on today’s culture, but as a German, I’m not sure if I am ready to read funny stuff about Hitler. I will probably just have to take a plunge.

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    1. Please don’t get the impression that I am laughing about Hitler. I do not think there’s anything even vaguely humorous about him. The parts in the book that are funny are the mocking of today’s lifestyle, or people themselves. I think that Hitler is probably portrayed quite accurately in his evil “disguised” as help for the German people. Vermes makes us look closely at his character and what we are willing to accept: all too much.

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      1. Oh no, I didn’t think you were laughing at Hitler at all! I’m not sure I am ready to read about Hitler in the setting the book is presenting. But at the same time, I am a bit intrigued by it. Gotta think this over…

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  5. Bellezza, I believe I caught the tail end of something about this on public radio, and I thought, not sure AH could ever be a humorous subject. But, I guess anything’s possible. And this book does sound as if it has possibilities….

    (Captivating review, as always.)

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    1. It’s a whole new perspective on life today, even though being told through Hitler’s perspective is disconcerting. It’s very daring, it’s very bold, and it deserves attention for making me think outside of any box. It’s unlike any German fiction I’ve ever read.

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  6. You’re absolutely right to say that Hitler is not presented as funny in any way at all in the novel – the satire is directed at modern attitudes and institutions, particularly television. I can’t help but feel that we presently have a surge of anti-immigrant feeling in the UK because TV channels thought the man who proselytises that view was ‘entertaining’.

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  7. I’ve heard about this book at least twice during the last week, so I am extremely interested in this one. I am usually not a fan of books like these with alternative universe story lines but this one sounds to be more about the people’s reaction than about Hitler himself.

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