Well this is a new one for me – having to justify why I chose to read a book that seems strangely sympathetic to Hitler. My defence is that Ellie made me buy it in Waterstones last week. Blame her. I’m glad she did though – it’s not what I expected but it’s actually very impressive indeed.
Plot summary: 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 Führer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.
I was hooked on Look Who’s Back by the end of the third page. Adolf Hitler wakes up in modern-day Berlin and is surprised to discover that his last order, to raze the city to the ground, wasn’t carried out. By his reckoning, Germany shouldn’t exist at all and he’s a little annoyed that it does, actually. The novel and I just ‘clicked,’ and I settled down this odd but engaging book in one sitting.
I especially enjoyed Hitler’s assumptions about modern life. It’s fascinating how he interprets simple things like the amount of people picking up their dog’s waste and the prevalence of mobile phones. He decides that modern slang and language was implemented purposefully in order to allow the Turkish workers access to a simple language suitable for their lesser intellect.
Indeed, from those Turkish pupils I was able to observe how my principles had obviously been acknowledged as correct, and later implemented as directives. I detected barely any correct syntax; it sounded more like a linguistic tangle of barbed wire, furrowed with mental grenades like the battlefield of the Somme. … in accordance with ideas that I myself had developed and wished to implement. Admittedly, it had been intended for the Ukraine and the conquered Russian territories, but of course it was just as suitable for any other population group under German domination. And I witnessed a further technological advance: evidently the Turkish pupils had to wear tiny earplugs, to prevent them from picking up extraneous information or unnecessary knowledge.
The story never even tries to explain why he suddenly ended up in 2011, but that’s alright. It’s hardly the point of the story and I’d rather it didn’t bother than came up with some half-arsed, silly reasoning. What’s more interesting is Hitler’s own rationale about why he’s been sent forward in time, which is basically that the country has gone to the dogs and the time is right for him to step forward and save it from the incompetant female Chancellor, the European Union and, of course, the Jews.
It’s not pro-Hitler or anti-Hitler – it’s actually as objective as something like this could be. Occasionally I started to sympathise with his lonely, befuddled character but then he would demonstrate his true views and I’d feel revolted all over again. It doesn’t make apologies for his decisions, policies or views but it does explore what might have been going through his head at the time.
It’s written very, very well in a slightly formal tone (as one would expect from Hitler, I suppose) but it still remains accessible. I don’t think the title fits with the tone of the book but that’s most likely down to a poor translation. I do think that you’d need a certain amount of history knowledge, mostly relating to World War II, as words like lebensraum and the Treaty of Versaille are bandied about. I got by just fine with GCSE History but you’d need to know something to fully appreciate Look Who’s Back.
The truth could only be understood by the man who knows the Jews, the man who knows that with them there is no left and no right, and that both sides work hand in hand in perpetuity. And only the perspicacious spirit who sees through all the disguises could recognise that in their aim to eliminate the Aryan race, nothing had changed. … And the aim was so clear that only a fool could deny it: the Jewish hordes were planning once more to flood the Reich with their repulsive masses. But they had learned from the last war. Because they realised their inferiority, they resolved to undermine, reduce and annihilate the valour of our Volk. …
I was chilled to the bone with horror. And the nature of my mission was transparent.
I must resolutely follow this path.
The knowledge and detail that have gone into this book is astounding. Mr Vermes even knows how much the chandeliers in the Reich Chancellery weigh! This isn’t some silly book and I’m surprised that the review quotes on the cover mention how funny it is, because I don’t see it that way at all. It’s obviously not meant to be taken that seriously, but it’s not comical either.
In a way, it’s actually kind of terrifying. I hope somebody pretending to be Adolph Hitler and spouting his views on national television wouldn’t really amuse the nation to that extent. If somebody like him devolves into just a joke, then how would we recognise it if it happened again? Would the fictional audience in the novel still be laughing if they realised it really was Hitler? Probably not. Perhaps we don’t take World War II as seriously as we should.
The basic point, or the one I took away, is that Hitler was elected once, by a rational, logical society. We look back at what a tyrant he was but at the time an unhappy body of people just voted for a strong man with strong views. He was a person, not a boogeyman. These are the things we need to remember in order to prevent it ever happening again.