What if, by some fluke in the space-time continuum, Adolf Hitler is miraculously transported to the 21st century? How would people react to his second coming? Would it be of disgust or of amazement? These questions are what Timur Vermes in his novel, Look Who’s Back, tries to answer it, the result is a funny commentary of media and its influence on how we perceive the world.
It’s hard to write about Adolf Hitler, there is no text that would paint him a positive light, much less in a comedic one. But Timur Vermes does with great effect, thrusting Hitler in the present makes for a very funny scenario. Imagine Hitler, devoid of a political machinery and his loyal cohorts, he struggles to fit in a very different Germany he has come to know. He remarks, with great hilarity: the current state of political parties and leaders of Germany, the immigrant situation, the EU, and the general disposition and role of Germans, all in the context of 1940 ideas. Hitler’s thoughts are replete with how Germany should achieve greatness in light of the decay he sees, he speaks of how people should conform and act using military terms, or when characters react to his actions, Hitler says things in a natural and uncontroversial way.
Yes, the book does not have any controversies, any mention of the Holocaust is kept in the history books. Those who’ve read the blurb, the book might be courting controversy but it is not. All the humor is done in good taste and in vague and unspecific ways, notorious Nazi party members and Hitler himself are written to mock their real life counterparts.
At the heart of this novel is the great big question of “What if?”, with Hitler’s effective use of media and our over reliance to it, Timur Vermes feels that we are too easily swayed by opinions and are overly jaded by the current situation we are willing to gobble up anything. And as the novel explores Hitler’s meteoric rise to power, it is also very scary that we are very fickle minded people to forget our lessons in history. In fact some of the characters are a testament to this lesson, without a Goebbels or Goering, Hitler found others to take their place and slowly the book begins to mirror the events that brought Adolf Hitler to power.
Look Who’s Back is a good book and it certainly deserves the accolades and merits it has received. Powerful, funny, and provocative it makes for an interesting read. On the other hand, the book suffers from a very slow build up and it is only towards the last 100-150 pages or so that it becomes exciting and funny. At its peak it abruptly ends and I was absolutely shocked when I turned the page to read the Translator's Notes. Despite this, I enjoyed the book and hope to read some more of Timur Vermes' work in the future.
My name is Alfonso your nerdy history teacher, bookworm and lover of all things cultural and exciting. You can find me in a weekend market, in a bookshop, or eating in Japanese restos during the weekends.