Berlin, Summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open 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, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and people begin to listen. But the Führer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.
The premise seems fairly amusing and from that alone possibly worth a decent read, although mainly I was wondering if it would be just a novelty exercise and/or fall into the poor taste trap. Books like this need to have an underlying message, something they wish to achieve and although this book had some interesting points, it was on the whole forgettable.
It will come as a relief to know that the story has no real explanation for Hitler’s predicament which is still better than the one in that stone cold classic film of the time travel genre, Hot Tub Time Machine. The story does at least move on in a pacy way without this obstacle and soon gets into its stride.
There is the standard amusement in the form of our narrator being constantly perplexed with modern life and seeing the world through his eyes is interesting up to a point, with all the big chain stores, the internet and different nationalities now inhabiting Berlin and so forth. Sadly the jokes lose their impact and quite quickly become repetitive and predictable.
Vermes does well to avoid any sympathy one may have for Hitler’s loss of wife and his closest allies which is a relief, as there is a danger in humanising the dictator so that he becomes almost a lovable old grandfather type set in his ways, which just happen to be racist and disagreeable to the modern sensibilities. Luckily all the characters are two-dimensional and although there is occasion when the story does sail close to the wind, it never becomes particularly offensive unless you are one of the new fangled PC crew that get offended by everything, which I am sure you are not.
There are some redeeming features to the book if you haven’t already been put off, it does show the banality of modern life especially from the media, a case in point being how the arts section misses the point of what Hitler is doing and proceed in the usual form of babbling nonsensical rubbish that fills their columns and purports to be intellectual. That is where the book does its best work, it’s hardly cutting edge satire but it does alright. To go into the Hitler’s politics and compare it to the modern-day as seen through his eyes would have made for much more fascinating and effective read but would probably turn off the general reader with its accompanying minutiae.
It does feel like a missed opportunity but at least it focusses on the gullibility and susceptibility of the general public who don’t think but react (see any comment section on any newspaper article). The seeming simplicity of how revolutionary or reactionary voices can easily find the masses ears and a following built up is frightening. It seems unavoidable at this point to mention the ongoing US primaries and how the media not only choose to convey the politicians but also its responsibility to the public and indeed the responsibility of the voting public when it comes to choosing leaders who seem like a highly questionable bunch. This book is pretty topical on that point it has to be said but not in any depth.
It’s no political heavyweight by any means being mildly amusing and easily dismissable. There were a few places where a little smile played across my usually dead pan (but highly attractive) face but that was all. The book is stupidly over hyped, it had the opportunity to do so much more with Hitler but with lack of depth to him and the story – no to mention the missing humour that is quoted as being there on the cover – the book is just another repetitive and average effort. Perhaps the German humour was lost on me, maybe it was the translation or a mixture of both (or neither), I persevered in the hope of a good conclusion, which I did not find and because it was a relatively quick read. Its standard bestseller stuff and that never endears itself to this reader, although others of a less critical mind may enjoy it, the lasting memory I got from this book was wondering why there is the annoying need for some young people to end every single phrase as if it were a question.