Allthatsleft Book Club #12 – Tibur Vermes, Look Who’s Back

by Ray_North on June 30, 2015

Unknown-1This is a really, really troubling book – as hilarious as it is edgy and dangerous, as clever as it is crass and worrying.

The premise is this: Adolf Hitler hasn’t actually died he’s been asleep, in a field in Berlin, and one day, in 2012, he wakes up. And, having been asleep for nigh on 70 years, he has no idea how history, politics and culture have developed, indeed, his last memory is of being in the bunker with the Russians dangerously close-by.

The story then develops as Hitler, whose views and politics haven’t changed at all (why would they, as far as he’s concerned he’s only had a quick nap), tries to navigate his way around modern Germany. Initially he is confused as to why he can’t find, ‘Eva, Martin and Goebells’ and why there are brightly dressed youths playing football around him, who don’t seem to know how to properly salute their Fuhrer; he wanders around Berlin, getting strange looks from passers-by (he is still in his uniform and peak cap), before he is taken in by a friendly newspaper seller, who takes him for a Hitler impersonator.

Hitler now embarks upon a number of genuinely funny episodes including a wonderful incident where he is trying to get his uniform cleaned by a Turkish dry-cleaner.
‘Don’t you know who I am?’
‘Are you that fella Schettenberg off the telly?’
‘No, I am the Fuhrer, the one chosen by providence to lead the German Volk.’
‘Well, your suit still won’t be ready until Thursday.’

His ranting is spotted by some proper ‘luvvie’ TV producers, who take him as an ironic Hitler impersonator, and he quickly becomes a smash hit delivering spit-drenching monologues on every subject from the failure of German Volk to stand up for the Cheese Industry to the ridiculousness of picking up dog mess. He blames internet porn on ‘International Jewry’ and derides Angela Merkel as ‘that matron woman posing as Chancellor.’ He worries about racially pure Germans being killed because they’re looking at their phone whilst crossing the road, and decides that perhaps such phones should only be allowed to be used by inferior racial types, then, after a pause, he decides that actually such phones should be compulsory for inferior racial types.

The beauty of the book is how uncomfortable it makes the reader feel – on one level, Hitler’s views, which are brilliantly articulated, are so ridiculous, that he comes over as a buffoon, a parody of what he once was – so much so, that all the left-wing and liberal political parties, try to sign him up, convinced that he is making points for liberalism, but, on another level, quite disturbingly, you find yourself feeling sorry for him – it is written in the first person and Hitler’s cluelessness about modern life and everything that goes with it does evoke sympathy – he lures you into believing him to be the crazy but loveable racist uncle you have a soft spot for – but then he destroys that by applauding his own policies for the fact that he hasn’t see many Jews wondering about the streets of Berlin, saying, ‘I must congratulate Himmler, the next time I see him.’

Of course, Hitler is not the only clown of the piece – Vermes, also pokes fun at the modern media for their inability to see that they are giving a platform to one of histories most notorious figures, whilst the public at large are lampooned for having any interest, regardless of the reasons why, in the nonsense spouted by Hitler.

This book is a parable – a lesson to all of us, how, if we’re not too careful, the cult of celebrity may see us inadvertently making a hero out of, perhaps, the least deserving man ever, it points out the very fine line between irony and sincerity and how, in the modern age, we can all be duped into believing something that is, on close inspection truly awful.

As I said, this is a very, very troubling book – but I urge you all to give it a read.

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