Every now and then a book comes along that invites a certain type of controversy. Take Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap for example. The storyline of that book (and subsequent television mini-series) opened up a whole can of worms in regards to the corporal punishment of young children by their parents (or other adults). The topic divided readers, raising many questions about the issue of smacking, and whether it can be viewed as a form of abuse or a legitimate means of disciplining a wayward child.
While Timur Vermes’ book isn’t exactly in the same vein as Tsiolkas’, it too has invited its fair share of controversy. It was bound to, considering that it is about the ‘resurrection’ of Adolf Hitler in modern-day Germany. This highly original book markets itself as ‘a merciless satire’, but the content predictably draws attention to and raises questions about the good taste (or lack of) making such a move, only seventy or so years after millions of people were slaughtered by the Nazi regime.
Regardless of the controversy, the book (which has been translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch) is extremely well-written, and forces readers to confront the always-present stereotyping and prejudice against people who are different to ourselves. It also tackles the underlying racism that many people still harbour, despite their well-meaning outward portrayal, and brings back to the fore the terrible atrocities that Germany as a nation has both tried to suppress, yet not forget, at the same time.
It is the year 2011, and for reasons unknown, our narrator Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of wet ground, alive and well. He has no memory of what has occurred since 1945- indeed, despite the obvious lapse of time, he looks exactly the same as he always did, and is still wearing his (now slightly dirty) uniform from that era. Surrounded by an entirely new Berlin from the one that he left behind, Hitler has to learn to readjust to this new land, which is being run by a woman and is filled with Turkish immigrants. With the help of a newspaper vendor/ talent spotter (who believes him to be an impersonator), Hitler manages to land a role in a popular television show, simply by being himself. His fantastic orating skills, particular knowledge of ‘history’, and his flawless ability to work as a ‘method actor who doesn’t break character’ all attribute to his sudden fame and popularity with this new German generation. He goes viral on YouTube, lands his own television show and the press follow his every move.
While he is determined to rule over Germany once more (and is unhesitant to use his renewed fame to do it), Hitler also has to deal with technological advancements, ‘new’ social norms and changed political agendas. His readjustments are amusing, as are his observations about a different society from the one that he remembers, but despite the sympathy he sometimes evokes, you have to remind yourself who exactly the character is that you’re sympathising with. Although many of his views are just as outlandish as they were in the 1940s, the author manages to make you see things from Hitler’s perspective, and this can create a somewhat unsettling feeling. Vermes also uses comedy extremely well, with his character making several observations which can be humorously construed in a different light.
This book is not really an easy read (although I am unsure whether this has something to do with the translation or because of the style of the narrative). Nevertheless, it is interesting and is guaranteed to produce a stimulating dinner table conversation next time you talk about the latest book that you have read.