Look Who’s Back – Timur Vermes

NEOHitlerBerlin, 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.

40 Replies to “Look Who’s Back – Timur Vermes”

    1. I had little patience with it, I did have to sieve through the book for the thought provoking bits. Having said that, I usually don’t get on with most bestsellers so perhaps others would get more out of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is a book?
    It’s difficult for me to understand why/how something like this gets published.
    I realize free thought is the ultimate redemption.
    Therefore, one of my books should get published. 😉

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    1. It’s going to be a Netflix show as well at some point, Germany already has a film or TV show of it. It’s too benign to really be offensive to all but the most sensitive, that probably helps it get a bigger audience. One of your books, this suggests you have more than one for me to review at some point!

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    1. It does seem it but too little is done, it focuses more on the day to day life of Hitler rather than showing how his opinions divide a nation as either comedy or as a lunatic politician. It is light enough to amuse though and I suppose that was the point but it didn’t interest me in a way that it could have done.

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  2. I started watching Hot Tub Time Machine but felt my life ebbing away in an alarming fashion, although if they had gone back to the early twenties and hung out with a young Hitler, just like John Cusack does in the film ‘Max’, the history could be different now. No necessarily better, just different.

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    1. HTTM was an utterly pointless waste of money, when I was younger I had little sense of taste when it came to anything outside books. Had they hung out with a young Hitler, I predict the onset on Armageddon would have been brought about within years. I need to go watch Max now, I hope Hitler is in a car chase with a man who has a flamethrower for a car, that’d be mad.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I fear you’re about to be sorely disappointed. Hitler, (played by the Noah Taylor who then went onto be the head of the flayed men people on Game of Thrones) has very few ‘Mad’ episodes, unless water colour paintings and political meetings count. 😦

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        1. It sounds about accurate really, a Netflix programme is hardly going to be what HBO would have done which would have been plenty brutal ad grim. After this book I don’t think I’ll bother, although in the German trailer Hitler leans on an electric fence, gets a shock and scares a cow. That was great.

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  3. Oh, that’s interesting, I keep being tempted by this but not sure. I’m almost convinced one of my friends has read it in German; I’ll have to check and see if something was lost in translation. I don’t get on with most bestsellers, too, by the way, nice to have company in that!

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    1. It isn’t as clever or funny as people will tell you it is, perhaps the original German was a lot wittier. I like the odd bestseller but most leave me cold, glad it isn’t just me either!

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    1. I did see some similarities in the book to the Primaries, it is quite harrowing when you think about it. I saw a video of a bloke giving Hitler quotes to Trump voters and asking them if they agreed, the results were sadly predictable and it just goes to show that people don’t think about things any more.

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  4. You are spot on with certain people (many more than I’d like to believe) reacting to and being led by just about anyone with enough charisma or just rants loud enough. I could actually see this scenario happening. Not with a Rip Van Winkle type character, but a modern day maniac. I’ll pass on this one.

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    1. It is scarily close to reality, it is good that there at least the freedom of speech to debate such topics but with that freedom needs to come critical thinking, so naturally I fear for the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The tendency to be two-dimensional is as far as I know not restricted to satires like this one. You get the same kind of thing when Americans try to write this sort of ‘what-would-happen-if” book about the American Civil War. It’s at least partly the effect of showing oneself to be knowledgeable about what has actually happened, and using pointed ironies at the anachronistic character’s (in this case Hitler’s) expense. But I think you yourself acquire a lot of expertise and experience through your key willingness to experiment and read all sorts of stuff, a willingness that I to my own loss lack. Thanks for the review!

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    1. You don’t lack it, I think I just don’t badger you enough, if I lived closely I may set a gang of badgers to skulk around your house until you started picking up different books and getting into Doctor Who. I’m not really sure as to how knowledgeable the author needs to be when writing a bestseller the more obvious the better. I would probably be more aflounder in an American Civil war book, although I do have a massive tome to read about it, including a battle off the coast of England interestingly enough.

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          1. Hmm, more of a masochistic fantasy.
            On the other hand, his control freak mind wouldn’t gel well with current lot of terrorists. So (hopefully) they may end up blasting each other off Earth.

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            1. It takes either a warped or a gullible mind to go in for modern day terrorism, now if they just spent more time engaged in their faith rather than killing then the world would be better for it and innocent people who don’t ask for wars and such could feel safe.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read a Ronson book since The Men who Stare at Goats and I shudder to think how long ago that was. Vermes doesn’t do much with social media despite the overwhelming appreciation of a Hitler ‘impressionist’ the book focusses too much on the sameyness of Mr H. misunderstanding things in comical ways. A few chapters on the wider impact would have done wonders for the book and felt like it was examining society but alas no. This will be in The Works soon enough, providing they have any space for books that is.

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  6. Not sure how I missed this post when it came out, but better late than never. I have this book in audio version but could not bear more than about a third of it. The premise seemed interesting enough, but the constant repetition of the key humour points just got on my nerves in the end. As you so eloquently point out, this is such a missed opportunity – a real pity because it could have offered much more depth on some fascinating insights as to how society has and has not changed since Hitler’s time.

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    1. I watched the film version which is subtitled handily and I found it to be a lot more affective than the book, the points the book makes and mainly fails to follow up on. Apparently it is going to be a TV series in the US, the film is worth a watch if you come across it, the book just disappointed.

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          1. That surprises me too – I would not have put this in the ‘light’ category so will view it in that spirit…

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            1. Well it’s lightness does well allow the subtleties of the points its making to shine all the more…but there are also some quite chilling bits as well. It’s a good balance.

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