Imagine one of history’s most vicious and hated tyrants coming back to life (not like an actual zombie, thankfully) in a modern day world, which is nothing like the one he left behind when he died. That is precisely the premise of Timur Vermes’ controversial novel, Look Who’s Back. And the tyrant in question is none other than Adolf Hitler.
Even though I had never heard of Timur Vermes before, I picked up this book out of curiosity and amusement, thanks to its amazing cover. Now, after having completed it, I am glad I trusted my instincts because this book introduced me to a wonderful author who can write humor very cleverly.
The book, which is originally written in German, starts with a time-travelling Hitler waking up on the streets of modern day Berlin, still in a muddy Nazi uniform, and very much alive and well. However, much to his dismay, his beloved Fatherland is not at all how he anticipated it to be. After a few unfortunate encounters with unsuspecting individuals, who naturally fail to give him the Nazi salute, Adolf finally befriends a newspaper kiosk owner who mistakes him for a method actor playing the role of the Fuhrer very, very accurately. So much so, that he even lands himself a job on a television show, after impressing some TV producers with his mannerisms and “patriotic” speeches given in classic Hitler style. So he gets back a chance to spread his hate-filled politics through the medium of television, while the producers get to engage the audience through his parodies.
What follows is a tale of paradoxical mistaken identity situations which bring a psychopathic dictator in the limelight again. The whole idea of Hitler coming back to life is so absurd that nobody in the story even considers this possibility, ultimately ending up glorifying him for his acting prowess. The Adolf Hitler “impersonator” is put on a television show where he is allowed to give his infamous propaganda filled opinions and speeches, all in the name of satire and hilarity. In other words, he is lauded simply for mastering the act of looking and behaving like himself! Because let’s face it. You can’t easily get away with passing appalling racial judgments in the form of crude humor on national television, unless you are doing so as an actor pretending to be a ruthless dictator like Hitler.
So where’s the humor in that?
This is where the author’s genius comes in. Timur Vermes brilliantly creates situations where Hitler’s circumstances and conversations, even though laden with typical Nazi propaganda, do not always feel out of place or suspicious. Rather, it all just seems part of his act. So instead of cringing at his opinions, you actually find yourself feeling amused, and at times, even laughing at his absurd retorts. Of course, not everyone is sold and there is some obvious retaliation to this Hitler’s growing popularity, but still the whole act is largely supported by the general public for the sake of free speech and art.
One of the reasons why this works is that, the Hitler in this story, is almost like a shadow of his actual, former self. In a way, we are just shown a very mellowed down version of one of the most hated men in history, in order to make us get through the story without becoming repulsed by the main protagonist. So instead, we have a Hitler who hilariously tries to make sense of the internet and social media, and ends up unknowingly fraternizing with some Jewish people, who he shockingly finds to be interesting. Timur Vermes also gives us some truly funny lines, which in any other scenario, would be difficult to imagine being said by Hitler, but seem very natural here. Some of those are;
“I thought we were driving around in circles until I realized that Herr Starbuck owned dozens of coffee houses.”
“What irritates me most of all about these morning people is their horribly good temper, as if they have been up for three hours and already conquered France.”
“We all know, of course, what to make of our newspapers. The deaf man writes down what the blind man has told him, the village idiot edits it, and their colleagues in the other press houses copy it.”
Although, the novel is a good read overall, I was slightly disappointed by the ending, as it was a bit confusing to interpret. All in all, it’s an oddly funny book with a controversial yet comical story which not only presents Adolf Hitler like you could never imagine, but also tells us about the upside-downside of social media, and shows just how vulnerable and easily influenced we can get by misguided political agendas, even today.
P.S. I would especially like to thank Timur Vermes for introducing me to the word, NINCOMPOOP. Also, I had no trouble imagining Hitler as someone funny and idiotic, thanks to those awesome Hitler rant videos from YouTube. You can check a few of them here and here, if you haven’t seen any of them yet (No offence to Bruno Ganz, who brilliantly played Hitler in Downfall).
My Ratings for Look Who’s Back- 4/5