Look Who’s Back by Timur Vernes

It was a hilariously confronting read on what it means to be a celebrity in today’s culture and on an incredibly taboo topic in Germany although I have very mixed feelings about the ending. However, for such audacious and disturbing commentary, it was handled sensitively and fairly.

The idea of Hitler coming back to life in the year 2011 and watching him interact in the modern world is taboo enough. Watching him successfully con everyone around him whilst making uncomfortably satirical commentary is what, I think made this novel as successful as it is.

However, for this novel work, the reader needs a few things:

  • A relatively good understanding of Nazi history and of Hitler. And not just the basic ‘Oh Hitler really hated Jews and messed up when he went after the Russians in winter’. And it’s not just name dropping either; there’s a lot of in depth references to key Nazi senior leaders and campaigns either.
  • And since it’s read from Hitler’s point of view, he’s also describing his interactions with them and his own perspective. So most of the time, I’m reading with this morbid fascination as he’s trying to rationalise his thoughts and justify his actions. For example, book-Hitler loved the concept of Wikipedia, just the fact that millions of strangers were willing to contribute to this online encyclopaedia for the Greater Good (and at no point in history did things go well as soon as Hitler mentioned the phrase “Greater Good”).
  • A relatively good understanding of German media. There’s a lot of what I think are snide commentary on the reliable and unreliable German papers which unfortunately, I couldn’t really understand.
  • An appreciation of celebrity pop culture and its manipulation of the media. The other anvil-sized point that Vernes insisted on making, was what the people were prepared to let celebrity’s get away with in the name of humour, art, and free speech.
  • And adding to that an incredible suspension of disbelief. For the entire plot to work, everyone genuinely believes that this “Hitler look-a-like” is an incredibly dedicated method actor and comedian. Not a single person believes that the incredible Hitler look-a-like is actually Hitler or even held him accountable for the horrific things he says. Everyone believes he’s just an unbelievably intense method actor, Daniel Day-Lewis style. And that’s something the readers just have to go with.

However, I think it was handled sensitively. The novel doesn’t give ammunition to extreme right-wing groups nor does it drop unnecessarily obvious morality messages about Hitler’s evil ways that we already know. The Holocaust wasn’t mentioned but rather delicately skated around but I don’t know of any way it could have been satirised.

The novel started off with a real punch but it kind of dwindled off. Towards the end, it just became about reading the various ways Hitler’s actions are misinterpreted and his ironic insights in modern-living. It’s a biting satirical read and that is its purpose, which Vernes has achieved. It’s a pity that the plot wasn’t a bit better developed, especially the ending.

 

I had a lot of problems writing this review. I don’t know if I did this topic justice.

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