Book: Look Who’s Back
Author: Timur Vermes
When I heard about this book, I was instantly intrigued. A Hitler satire? And not just a Hitler satire, but a Hitler satire written by a German author? Sign me up! Basically this book is what if Hitler somehow survived WWII and woke up 2011 and he becomes a YouTube sensation. I was expecting something really funny from what I’d heard about it, and whilst yes, there were parts that I did find funny, it wasn’t quite what I expected. I enjoyed it well enough, but I found myself kind of disappointed with the story. It could have been so much better than it was. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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.
LOOK WHO’S BACK stunned and then thrilled 1.5 million German readers with its fearless approach to the most taboo of subjects. Naive yet insightful, repellent yet strangely sympathetic, the revived Hitler unquestionably has a spring in his step.
I’ll start by saying that I did like the concept of this book. The idea of Hitler in the 21st century is pretty cool, although you do have suspend disbelief with the whole time travelling/suspended in time thing (since Vermes is very vague on the details) but once you’ve accepted that, it’s a pretty cool concept. However despite the great concept, it wasn’t executed quite as well as it could have been.
I’m not going to say this book wasn’t funny, because it was, there were some very funny parts, but I was expecting…..I don’t know….more. I was expecting to laugh out loud, to find it really hilarious, instead it was more like an odd snicker here or there. I don’t know whether some of the humour was lost in translation (since the book was originally published in German and I read the English translation) or what, but it just wasn’t as funny as I was expecting.
There was also a lot of infordumping about politics and stuff about Nazi Germany and Hitler’s policies and contemporary German politics and by the end of the book, I felt like my head was spinning from all the new information I was being given. I appreciate that the author had clearly done his research, but I would have appreciated if the information had been worked in a little more smoothly rather than just dumped in huge chunks on the page.
Hitler was very well drawn and the character did feel very true to what I know from History class, but the problem with that is that there were a lot of long Hitler monologues, which I know is true to his character but it was pretty dull to read. Most of the humour came from Hitler getting used to 21st century life which was pretty funny the first few times, but by the end of the book it had grown tiresome because it was repeated so much.
It’s strange because Hitler initially seems quite charming and bumbling and oddly sympathetic and then you’re like “Oh my god, I’m finding HITLER sympathetic, I can’t!” but then he says something sexist or racist or whatever and then you want to punch him in the face and that feels much better. So basically the feelings in this book go from “Ah poor bumbling Hitler” to “OMG, why I am I feeling sorry for Hitler?” to “YOU ASS!” (which seems like a very poor insult for someone so evil, but what can I say? It’s what I was thinking).
I think this book is definitely more aimed for German audiences than worldwide audiences because there are a lot of things in the book about German politics and culture which as a Brit, I have no idea about. On the one hand, this book has made me want to learn more about German politics and culture, but it did mean I was quite confused when Hitler was talking about a German political party or something to do with German pop culture and I was like “Huh?”. Admittedly, there is a glossary at the back with information about the people and political parties which was helpful but it would have been more helpful to have footnotes or something like that so you didn’t have to keep flicking to the back when you didn’t understand something.
It’s actually quite horrifying that the television execs let Hitler get so far but it reminds you that as much as we like to think someone like Hitler could never get into powers nowadays, that actually media has come a long way since the 1930’s and there are actually more platforms for extremists to get their point of view out there today. Reading this in the context of the current US election with Trump is actually quite scary! It was also quite horrible that no one ever realised that Hitler was the real Hitler, they all just thought he was a parody and he was able to manipulate them so easily.
I was kind of expecting more to be made out of the YouTube aspect of the story since it’s quite a prominent aspect on the blurb, it says that Hitler becomes a YouTube star but it’s really only mentioned about him being on YouTube once, so I was kind of disappointed in that.
I had no complaints about the writing, it was well translated, everything made sense in English but the plot never really seemed to go anywhere. It was basically Hitler bumbling around in 21st Century Germany trying to work out how to takeover and saying racist and sexist things. It was a good concept but without a clearly defined plot, the story kind of fell down.
I was really disappointed by the ending, it was so anti-climactic, I was expecting it to end with Hitler taking over Germany again or something dramatic but it didn’t really so it was kind of disappointing. I wanted the novel to be building to some exciting conclusion and it just wasn’t so it left me feeling kind of deflated at the end.
Overall, I think it was a good concept but poorly executed and something that might work better in a short story rather than a full length novel because that at least would have avoided some of the repetitiveness that this novel had. I really wanted to love it, but I just didn’t. I would probably mostly recommend it to German readers, you’d probably understand the references way better than I did!
My rating: 3/5
My next review will either be of Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer (my current read) or 13 Minutes (the e-ARC that I’m currently reading).