MacLehose Press, £15. Order at the discounted price  of £12.75 inc. p&p from the Independent Bookshop

Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes; Trans. Jamie Bulloch, book review

 

Be warned. This book is funny. Very funny. It is a rollicking farce, a comedic look at our obsession with celebrity, that the worldwide stage of social media and the internet make available to all – even a time-travelling Hitler who awakes on a piece of Berlin wasteland in 2011, dusts himself off and sets about discovering the state of the nation, the barometer of his German Volk, and how he can best use this second chance "Destiny has offered" him.

Yes, this is where it gets potentially uncomfortable, controversial and taboo-breaking: the story is narrated by the Führer and, while occasionally mellow, even congenial, he has not changed his fundamental tune. "The Jews are no laughing matter," he agrees without irony when picked up for a stand-up routine on a major German television channel. His appearance goes viral. A new career is launched.

This raises inevitable questions. May one laugh at material based partly in style and content on the vision of Mein Kampf? For, however clear it is that the supposedly sophisticated viewer in Merkel's Germany – flourishing, liberal-minded and worlds away from the deprivation and deep-seated problems of the Versailles Treaty from which the horrific phoenix of National Socialism rose – regards the material as a master-class in irony, this Hitler, too, is deadly earnest. Is he to be regarded through the same satiric lens as characters in the film The Producers? Is it permissible for writers to treat such material farcically? There is a tradition of sorts: Edgar Hilsenrath and Raphael Seligmann, both Jewish, did so, and there is the absurdist treatment of Hitler in Walter Moers's comic strip "Adolf, the Nazi Pig". Does Vermes earn his place in this company?

Yes, I would argue, for the novel's intentions are clear and threefold: to send up an aspect of modern society, our obsession with momentary fame and viewing figures; an encouragement to reflect upon whether such a figure could rise to any real power today – if so, where; and, quite simply, to entertain as a slick piece of unusual comedy.

The nub of Vermes's humour lies in the discrepancy between how "Hitler" regards himself and how he is perceived by others, as illustrated in his first encounter with his unlikely match of a Goth secretary in the production studio: "Her clothes were black, conspicuously so… Well now, there was no-one fonder of dark hues than I! I had always found it terribly dashing, especially on the S.S… but this young lady looked almost worryingly pale…. 'So,' she said, ignoring my questions, 'You must be Herr Hitler! L.O.L.!'". Talk of Lebensraum, daydreams of a new Wehrmacht, contrast with winks and broad smiles.

As with The Producers, a follow-up would seem redundant, and a spin-off TV series or movie would be taking the joke too far. But this unlikely comedy of manners, quite brilliantly translated by Jamie Bulloch, with its mischievous cover, should be available to an English readership as good, edgy comedy that provides food for thought alongside the belly laughs.

While it may be unsettling to find yourself agreeing with this Hitler as he ponders mobile phones, the aesthetic quality of cars, and bewilderment at the appeal of Jeremy Kyle-esque programmes, this laughter at the character can be enjoyed safe in the knowledge that "Mutti" Merkel, would be more than a match for this madcap creation.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border