In a world where absolutely ridiculous media nincompoops like Katie Hopkins can make a career out of being a sensationalist fascist and are lauded with too, too much media attention, it is hard not to imagine that the plot of the novel Look Who’s Back is anything but highly plausible.
When I have to come up with a solution to a particularly cumbersome problem, I often ask myself,
What would David Bowie do?
What would Kate Bush do?
What would Madonna do?
Rarely, do I think what would Adolf Hitler do? Yet this is exactly what Timur Vermes has done. The resulting piece of fiction is darkly humorous, subtly frightening and deeply disturbing.
It is summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. He is recognised of course, but not as the original blueprint of sadism, instead as being a flawless impersonator, a method actor who refuses to break character. Soon Hitler in all his ‘fuhr-ocity’ goes viral on YouTube and the madman is given his own television show. Disturbingly, the more outrageous his sentiments, the more he is given media attention.
I know Shirley Bassey is not a philosopher but she was ever so right when she sang,
It’s just a little piece of history repeated.
The story abruptly commences with the fascist dictator re-awakening in Germany and immediately thrusts the Fuhrer into the modern jungle that is Berlin. He is outraged and disgusted that his beloved Fatherland is now being run by a female of the species.
The German Reich appeared to have given way to what was called a ‘Federal Republic,’ the leadership of which resided with a woman (‘Federal Chancellor’), although men had been entrusted with this position in the past.
The changes to contemporary society and Adolf’s take on them are laugh out loud amusing. Everything from Starbucks coffee to fashion,
He had brought me a clean pair of blue cotton trousers, which he called ‘genes’, and a clean red-checked cotton shirt.
To mobile phone ringtones,
Which sounded like a drunken clown playing the xylophone.
And of course there is the pint-sized psychopath’s musings on modern technology,
The time, the stock prices of the American dollar, the temperature of the remotest corners of the earth-oblivious to all this; the announcer carried on broadcasting news of world events. It was as if the information were being retrieved from a lunatic asylum. And as if these nonsensical antics were not enough, interruptions for advertisements, as frequent as they were abrupt, declared where the cheapest holiday could be obtained, a claim, a large number of shops made in the same way. No sane person would be capable of remembering the names of these outlets, but they all belonged to a group called www.
Lest we forget, in the past people used to smoke at work, they could puff away at their desks (I thank re-runs of Colombo for this history lesson) and also drink whisky in meetings. With this in mind, it is understandable why such modern civic practices like picking up domestic pets faeces (or doggy caramel as I call it), would look positively absurd;
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a madwoman on the edge of the park who was gathering up what her dog had just deposited.
I think what is clever about this book is it has an almost fearless approach to a taboo subject. It is controversial, and quite timely, in that it really underlines the problems and vulgarity of fame. A society that sees plastic celebrity worshipped above all else. Who cares if you have a talent unless you look younger than you did when you were in the womb? A little bit (or a lot) of a fascist? That’s okay as long as you get the ratings, conquer the Twitter stream and grapple with the Facebook likes.
This piece of literature was first published in Germany, ‘Er ist wider da‘ and is now parading the shelves of book stores in the rest of Europe. A tale that will have the Fuhrer’s ghost haunting you long after you have read it.