Springtime For Hitler (Again): Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes

on Tuesday, April 1, 2014
A spoiler for those of you who have yet to see the near-perfect jacket design of Timur Vermes's gutsy novel: Adolf Hitler. That's who's back. Without any attempt to explain the intervening sixty years, Vermes plops the most hated man in history into a field on the outskirts of modern day Berlin. At first, poor old Adolf thinks the war is still on and can't understand why the kids playing soccer (obviously Hitler Youth, though how dare they not wear their uniforms) not only don't show him the proper respect but don't even seem to know who he is. Then it dawns on him; there is no war, Eva's dead, his cronies are gone and, well, Germany has gone to shit. Adolf is angry. Batshit crazy ranting angry. Yep, Adolf is right at home.

Wandering back into the big city, Hitler is taken in by a kindly newspaper vendor who thinks he must be a method actor; the best he has ever seen. As luck would have it, the newspaper stand is in the entertainment district and the vendor knows some people who know some people and, before you can say Mein Golly Gott, Adolf finds himself as the political commentator on a popular comedy show. His rants bring the house down, making him (much to his confused delight) the most popular entertainer in Germany. Hitler is well and truly back!

Needless to say, Look Who's Back could have been a tasteless, vulgar exercise in cheap comedy (or worse). Yet, in Adolf Hitler Vermes has the perfect vehicle for "big idea" political and cultural satire. It is scary to admit, but it doesn't take too much tinkering to make the evil despot's diatribes disturbingly relevant. There are some hilariously light touches - Hitler trying to understand computers (especially U-tube, as he calls it) or getting his head around Goth culture - but Vermes really digs his claws in when it comes to Angela Merkel (Adolf does not approve), the modern German political system and the very difficult relationship the country has with its past. Some of the best laughs come from the deepest cuts. When Hitler visits the fascist party headquarters he is horrified to find it peopled by pimply kids and reprobates. He takes them to task on camera, completely eviscerating the movement. It is considered his best skit yet. Meanwhile, his greatest opposition comes from right wing thugs who think he is mocking their great hero. Hilariously (at least in terms of irony), he is bashed by a couple of skinheads and almost killed. Thereafter, every left wing party tries to co-opt him as their own - a hero for the anti-violence, anti-fascist movement. You can't help but laugh.

Look Who's Back is a very funny book. It is also frightening. The idea that contemporary culture's obsession with celebrity could bring Hitler back to power might seem somewhat hysterical but it provides serious food for thought. As I finished the novel I was reminded of that line in The Clash's White Man In Hammersmith Palais: "If Adolf Hitler flew in today/ They'd send a limousine anyway." Scary but, I fear, quite true.
4.5 Out Of 5 Unfashionable Moustaches

Ah, heck - I just have to post the cover. Pure design genius!


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