Look Who’s Back
Look Who’s Back
by Timur Vermes
Translated by Jamie Bulloch
Thanks to Quercus for sending me Look Who’s Back. Alas, it did not make it on the short list neither for the official IFFP list nor for our Shadow list, but still, I personally think this is a wonderful book and certainly the most hilarious literary novel I have read for years!
Imagine: it’s 2011, and none other than Hitler, you can have guessed from the awesome book cover, wakes up in his uniform on a vacant lot in Germany, where kids are playing soccer. He’s totally confused by his surroundings, the absence of war noises and scenes. Seeing newspapers on a nearby stand he is shocked to discover he missed the last 66 years, and tries to catch up with what happened in between.
The guy running the newsstand thinks he is one of those actors doing a Hitler documentary, except that he is really good at it and even quite natural! He introduces him to people working in the world of theater and movie.
Hitler becomes eventually a YouTube sensation and goes beyond his discomfort and shock at our modern culture to use the medias for his propaganda, hoping to be able to lead again the country one day.
This is a very smart and most hilarious literary novel. Wow, I wondered on so many pages how the author got all these amazing ideas.
I understand how upsetting this novel could be at some level, as yes there are a few passages about the Jews and a lot more on the overwhelming Turkish presence in current Germany. His analysis and critique of twenty-first century German politics can certainly not leave anyone indifferent, to say the least… Not mentioning the topic of our planet overpopulation.
This may be why the IFFP did not dare accept it on their shortlist. WWII is a very painful topic, talk to me about it: like most if not all French people, my own family had very close experience with forced labor in Germany and even concentration camps. Still, I think literature is literature and has the leeway to treat a monster with laughter.
And I believe anyway the point of this novel is the critique of our current modern world, and sometimes its stupid and contradictory elements, seen through Hitler’s eyes. As the translator highlights it so well at the end of the book,
Timur Vermes’ cutting satire offers a unique perspective on our modern, media-blotted world, in which celebrity is worshiped above all else.
Indeed, Hitler is totally confused by what he sees around him, and the way he interprets it is so irresistibly funny.
As early as chapter 1, he takes a cycling helmet for a
protective helmet, which appeared to have sustained some serious damage given the number of holes in it.
The passage on leaf blowers (chapter 10) is very good too, as well as his comments on women picking up dog turds…
I enjoyed especially how Hitler discovers the world of cell phones, ringtones, computers, and the internet.
Before long I established that I kept arriving at the same address: a proto-Germanic reference work called Vikipedia, an easily recognizable compound of “encyclopedia” and those ancient Germans with exploration in their blood, the Vikings.
His satire is directed to the medias in all their forms, with its ridiculous cult of personality. Here is what he thinks about TV programs:
Who would choose to watch trash like this? Untermenschen, perhaps, who can barely read and write, but besides them?
On a lighter side, you should go with him to Oktober Fest! (chapter 31)
To help you understand some passages that may be obscure, if you have not kept up too closely with WWII history and current Germany, there are excellent notes at the end of the book on major political figures as well as a few inside references.
The translation was so good I was never really aware I was reading a book in translation. As a literary translator myself, I know too well the aim of a good translator is to convey so well the text that no one even thinks about you.
VERDICT: Very smart satire of our modern world, seen through the eyes of Hitler. Sometimes provocative, always hilarious, one of the funniest literary novels.
Here is my list of 2015 IFFP titles in order of likes:
- The Ravens, by Tomas Bannerhed
- The End of Days, by Jenny Erpenbeck
- The Dead Lake, by Hamid Ismailov
- Look Who’s Back, by Timur Vermes
- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
- F, by Daniel Kehlman
- Bloodlines, by Marcello Fois
- By Night the Mountain Burns, by Juan Tomas Avila Laurel
- Zone, by Mathias Énard
- While the Gods Were Sleeping, by Erwin Mortier
- The Last Lover, by Can Xue
- The Giraffe’s Neck, by Judith Schalansky
To know more about the IFFP and the IFFP Shadow Panel, please see the other posts in this category