Well, here I am again, listening to the critics’ write ups and billboards in the underground. Apparently Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes comes with a warning: this book is funny. Very funny. I’ll freely admit that this book is like Marmite, you’re either going to love it, or hate it.
You can’t fail to notice from the cover – this book is about Hitler. To be more precise, this book is about Hitler waking up in 2011. What could possibly be wrong with that? Maybe he’d learn a thing or two in the future in a humorous yet moral tale?
You’ll get from this that I have no sympathies in that direction, my family was deeply affected by Hitler. So you’re probably wondering why I purchased this book, yet felt too cripplingly embarrassed to read it in public.
In this day and age where satire and comedy are worth dying for, I think it’s important to think about situations and people in a way we may not have done before. Look Who’s back is an extreme satire targeting Hitler, Nazism, the modern cult of celebrity and many other subjects besides. However, the concept of a comedic book about one of the world’s most abhorrent men in history (Number one spot really is an argy-bargy between Hitler and Stalin) feels different. Is this something that we should be laughing about? Yes, one of the best comedy programmes: Allo’ Allo’ managed it with gentle humour – yet didn’t involve Hitler, one of my favourite films: The Producers is hysterical. So yes, like anything – I’m willing to give it a go, you never know – I may have been pleasantly surprised.
Hitler is such a touchy subject, we have to admit that almost 70 years later – he still feels like a very much taboo subject. The book cover at least – whilst very simple, still has the power to shock. So much so, I couldn’t bear to read this outside the house. Would people look at me? Would they judge me? Somehow reading this outside felt like I would be reading a copy of Mein Kampf.
Indeed, the book itself has a shock value, although by no means is it pulp fiction. It is a well-thought-out, witty and very relevant satire on modern life, on the media, on our own sense of humour. Therein lies my problem with the book, Hitler just isn’t funny. It is the cast of characters around him who are oblivious that make the book; they believe he is an impersonator – a comedian who takes his work very, very seriously. Characters reactions to this are incredibly funny for the reader, yet as Hitler’s rants became more scary as the book progressed I wanted to shout at half the people to stop being so bloody stupid. My thoughts were: could we really go blindly down this route again? Or are we just gullible in a different way? I did wonder: if a man appeared claiming to be Hitler, looked like him, dressed like him, spoke like him – he would either end up in a mental hospital or on YouTube.
I had a chill in one scene when Hitler gives a speech – a direct copy of a real one he gave in which he spouts about blood and sacrifice – truly horrific – but his TV crew interpret it as an elegy for a recently deceased colleague. While it’s funny, it’s also an indictment of our sensibilities. You want him locked away, yet you want to see what other honours this society will laud him with.
How people react to him is fascinating – most find the ‘Heil Hitler’ amusing, his refusal to get out of character admirable, his improvisation astounding. And all that is funny. Yet the author also touches on the tragic – the elderly Jewish woman who cannot find this national sensation funny, remembering the atrocities he committed, the Nazi-haters who don’t see satire but die-hard National Socialism. The National Socialists for whom he is too extreme. It is the masses, as usual who are ‘led’ en masse to one opinion of him.
At times I felt the humour was forced, especially when it came to Hitler’s speeches. It felt like I was being strong armed into tittering, when all I wanted to do was put the book down (perhaps this is down to the translation?). Valiantly I carried on reading, hoping that Hitler would experience an epiphany at some point; however, an epiphany never happens. By the end of the book all I was left with was the notion that it was frightening how sheep-like people have been, are, and could be.
As an aside, this is probably the hardest book I’ve had to review. My thoughts are so mixed when it comes to Look Who’s Back, my head tells me that it should be funny, my heart says no.
See what you think.
The Knitty Gritty:
Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes (ISBN 978-1-78206-783-2)
Buy from your Local Bookseller, Amazon – or support your local Library!
I’m afraid this book is a league unto itself – if you can suggest anything, then please let me know!