‘Look Who’s Back’ by Timur Vermes

‘Look Who’s Back’ by Timur Vermes    (2012)  –  305 pages    Translated by Janie Bulloch     Grade:  B-

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We had hoped that Adolf Hitler was gone forever, but according to German writer Timur Vermes now he is back.  It’s the real Hitler who shows up, but everyone mistakes him for a Hitler imitator, and soon he is starring as a loony YouTube Hitler.

“Once upon a time he murdered millions – now millions have made him a YouTube sensation.  With his tasteless routine and bizarre catchphrases, a “comedian” dressed up as “Adolf Hitler” is venting hatred against foreigners, women, and democracy in Ali Gagmez’s show.”

A lot of the humor in ‘Look Who’s Back’ is based on the Hitler of 1945 confronting the modern world of smart phones, Starbucks, and ubiquitous computers.  He still spews the same old hate, but people just figure it is part of his act.

In some ways Vermes has softened Hitler up having him “love to watch the children romp around and squeal with excitement”.  This Hitler is also attractive to a variety of women.

Frankly I found another portrayal of Hitler much more amusing than anything in ‘Look Who’s Back’. That would be the angry rant of Adolf Hitler against his generals by Bruno Ganz in the movie ‘Downfall’ after he is given the news that the Russian army has swarmed Berlin and that the total defeat of Germany is imminent.   This rant occurred just hours before Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide.  ‘Downfall’ is one of the great movies of the past dozen years.

I am much more comfortable with Adolf Hitler as an evil monster rather than as any sort of likeable fellow.   But Vermes’ reasoning seems to be that in order for Hitler to do what he did, he must have had some attractive qualities which appealed to the German folk.  Instead of a lone monster, we have a whole people who followed and were severely misled.  I can buy that.  Hitler certainly did not act alone, but Hitler still bears responsibility for leading Germany down into the cesspool of history.

At certain points in the novel, the six million Jews that Hitler was directly responsible for murdering are mentioned.   When the producers of his TV show say “The Jews are no laughing matter”, Hitler agrees with them.  That is supposed to be some kind of joke.

In a way, the humor here reminded me of ‘The Producers’ where two guys write a Broadway musical called ‘Springtime for Hitler’ expecting it to be a flop, but it turns out to be a hit because it is so ridiculous.  The humor is quite cynical and distasteful in ‘Look Who’s Back’, yet the novel has set sales records in Germany.   Quite a bit of the humor is local and depends on inside references to Germany that I did not get.  The time-traveler humor of an old-time person confronting the modern world was somewhat old hat.

At one point in the novel Hitler says of England, “How many more bombs would we have to drop on their cities before they realized that we were their friends?”  Same old Hitler.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. It doesn’t seem as if anyone I’ve spoken to/read reviews from has been overly impressed by this novel. It is an interesting point that you make though – I would feel very uncomfortable with Hitler having any likeable side but millions of people were held by his charisma.
    Perhaps this book is best left off the TBR pile, but you have reminded me that The Downfall is a film I really want to watch!

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    • Hi Audrey,
      ‘The Downfall’ is currently the movie I most want to watch again.
      I must admit that I was quite wary of Timur Vermes being somewhat of a Hitler apologist. He does make Hitler more warm and cuddly than seems accurate. I suppose for Germany it was the novelty of someone actually writing a humorous book about Hitler that helped its popularity. I wasn’t bowled over by either the time travel humor or the portrayal of Hitler. I suppose Hitler imitators are a big comedy business in Germany.

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