Look Who’s Back (Timur Vermes)

look who's back

Why did you choose this book?

Part of my job is leading half of our staff Readers Advisory meetings, where we discuss how to better recommend books to patrons.  (Example: you come in and say you’re all caught up on JoJo Moyes but you want other books like those.  We use readers advisory to recommend some for you).  I had seen two reviews and an article in the New York Times about this controversial book and thought it would make a good discussion book for the next session.  We’ll be talking about it this week, actually.  It actually came out in 2012 in Germany, but the first English translation became available this spring.

What’s it about?

Adolf Hitler wakes up in the middle of a field.  He heads toward a newspaper kiosk and finds out it is 2011.  He begins talking to the man who runs the kiosk, who then takes him in and introduces him to some people from a local film studio.  Hitler eventually becomes quite the YouTube sensation, and throughout the book, people continue to believe that his refusal to reveal his “real name” and his responses to their questions are simply the dedication of an excellent method actor.

Categories, I need categories!

This book defies traditional categories.  It’s fiction, and could probably be considered satire.  I wouldn’t call it humor, exactly, and it’s not historical fiction either.  It’s probably most safe to just call it fiction and move on.

Other recommended books?

Not really.  I haven’t read anything else that compares.  It would probably be a good fit for people who enjoy reading about World War II history, as Hitler often drops names of his Nazi colleagues.  I didn’t realize until finishing the book that the translator supplied a glossary to help those who can’t tell Goering from Goebbels.

Final thoughts?

While a decent read, this book certainly won’t be for everyone.  I will say that I anticipated that I would find this book offensive, but I really didn’t.  There were a few lines I really enjoyed – here’s my favorite.

“Do you act in other things, too?” he said.  “Have I seen you before?”

“I do not act,” I said, rather brusquely.

“Of course not,” he said, putting on a curiously serious expression.  Then he winked at me.  “What are you in?  Have you got your own program?”

“Naturally,” I replied.  “I’ve had one since 1920! As a fellow German you are surely aware of the twenty-five points.”

He nodded enthusiastically.

“But I still don’t recall seeing you anywhere.  Have you got a card?  Any flyers?”

“Don’t talk to me about the Luftwaffe,” I said sadly.  “In the end they were a complete failure.” (page 15).

As fiction goes, this book isn’t particularly heavy on the dialogue.  Rather than describing the scenery and other characters, most of the book reflects Hitler’s thoughts about items and actions in the modern world.  For example, the chapters about his discovery of modern television and the Internet are almost entirely about his thought processes.

Ultimately, what I hope to discuss in our meeting this week is whether or not it will ever be acceptable to have fictional works about a man generally considered to be a villain, and if the next Hitler-esque character were to come on the scene, would we recognize him/her as a villain or just laugh at his/her views as the characters do in this book when Hitler spouts his Nazi agenda?

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