BY ANDREW MOODY
Like Sleeping Beauty, Adolf Hitler wakes one morning in wasteland that used to house the Fuhrerbunker, smelling of petrol and with a splitting headache. He is impeccably dressed in his army uniform, and can’t quite understand why his final orders (total military harakiri) weren’t carried out. Soon he finds out it’s 2011 in Berlin, and, with the skill and courage only a Fuhrer can have, he determines to save the German Volk from social democracy. But where are the Gestapo when you need them? Berlin embraces Hitler, believing him to be a method actor like Pacino or de Niro, and soon he is on a TV comedy sketch show that goes viral on “U-tube”. Hitler never quite works out why “Herr Starbucks” has so many coffee houses, or how to operate the new fangled television, but when his studio assistant gets him a phone with Ride of the Valkyries as his ringtone and his discovery of the internet (“interworks”) help him adjust since “the current state of Germany painted a highly distressing picture. Running the country was a chunky woman with all the confidence and charisma of a weeping willow.”
An ingenious conceit and a superbly sustained satire, Look Who’s Back’s dramatic irony never falters for a second. Timur Vermes, a ghostwriter by trade before the smash hit success of Look Who’s Back (which has sold over 1.4 million copies in Germany alone and been translated into more than forty languages) said he had the idea for bringing the Fuhrer back to life, with the Hitler obsession that was gnawingly common in Germany. Calling him a monster, Vermes reasoned, took the burden of guilt off the common German citizen. They priced the book deliberately at the hefty €19.33 a symbolic number to infer that at one point Hitler was the great white hope of Germany. Critics argued it was naive to think the audience would mock Hitler in the book, as he narrates his way through modern Berlin with a Nazi perspective, and not also sympathise with him too. Vermes believed that if Hitler came back now, he would have a following and gain success in something.
An ancient woman…held out her newspaper and said in a quivering voice, “Do you remember? 1935, in Nuremberg. I was in the window, watching you march by! I always thought you were looking at me. We were so proud of you!”
Vermes’ command of Nazi history is commendable, and it reads like a revisionist view of the second world war, albeit from a very unstable narrator. When he talks of England he muses: “How many more bombs would we have had to drop on their cities before they realised that they were our friend?”
The one vital perspective on the world war that’s been missing has been Hitler’s, and Vermes generously provides him one. Hitler has charm, self belief, courage, and a fiendish tenacity for self promotion. The author stated Germany was suffering from “Hitleritis” and plays off the guilt of the German reader to perfection. When you peer into the abyss, the abyss peers into you.
A successful film was directed by David Wnendt in 2015, utilising Borat style promotion techniques by placing Oliver Masucci the actor playing Hitler in various cities around Germany and filming the reactions. A book for people that don’t usually read, the movie version of Look Who’s Back is still on Netflix.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @Voguishfiction