Friday, 31 March 2017

Book Review: Er ist wieder da by Timur Vermes



Title: Er ist wieder da (Look Who’s Back)

Author: Timur Vermes

Pages: 398

Publication: 21st September by Eichborn (German edition)

Reason for reading: This was a bestseller in Germany and when I was on my year abroad the film was incredibly popular too. It had been on my TBR ever since being published but my current German essay was the impetus to finally get around to finishing it.

Goodreads Synopsis: Berlin, Summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. Things have changed – no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman.

People certainly recognise him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and people begin to listen. But the F├╝hrer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.

Look Who’s Back stunned and then thrilled 1.5 million German readers with its fearless approach to the most taboo of subjects. Naive yet insightful, repellent yet strangely sympathetic, the revived Hitler unquestionably has a spring in his step.

Review:

If I said to you that a comedy about Hitler waking up in 21st century Berlin was popular in Germany, alarm bells would probably start ringing very quickly. In recent years, images and portrayals of Hitler have become increasingly present in German media but the important thing to remember is that it all has a purpose. Er ist wieder da, or Look Who’s Back, is no exception.

The idea is incredibly original. I’d love to sit down with Vermes and discuss how he managed to not only put himself in the shoes of one of history’s most despicable figures, but also think through how such a figure would have reacted to things we now take for granted, such as Wikipedia and email. He manages to get you to laugh at Hitler, which provokes all kinds of questions: is that okay? Is this a sign that Germany has moved on? Is increased exposure to Hitler desensitising?

What I love most about Er ist wieder da is that the more you read, the more uncomfortable you feel. I don't want to give too much away but Vermes essentially shows how quick and easy it is to be taken by a personality. This is particularly important in the present day, where we are seeing more "characters" in politics.

I listened to this as an audiobook in German, narrated by Christoph Maria Herbst, and it is hands down the best audiobook I’ve listened to so far. How Herbst manages to do so many characters whilst keeping them all distinct from each other I do now know, and it is a true pleasure to listen to.

One thing I would say is that the novelty does wear off after a while, and a lot of the same kind of things happen throughout the book in terms of Hitler’s experience of the modern world. At times, I even got a little bored (but maybe this was a non-native language issue?). In this respect, I definitely think the film - although altered more than I had expected - is quite a lot better and for me packed more of a punch than the book did.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read and I’m glad I finally read it, but some of it did take a bit of perseverance. If the idea of a comedy about Hitler in the modern age intrigues you though, I would recommend watching the film over reading the book. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

I would love to know if you’ve read or plan to read this book! If you’ve read the English translation, are the hiccups I found purely down to me reading in my nonnative language? Let me know any thoughts and comments below!
Happy reading,

Zoe