Sunday, January 13, 2013
German books about Adolph Hitler are often labored historical tomes that manage to traverse well-worn facets of the Nazi leader and his diabolical march on Europe. But a new novel about Austrian-born dictator is employing a provocative approach - satire and comedy - and is racing up Germany's best sellers lists.
Timur Vermes's "Er Ist Wieder Da" (He's Back) is a comic novel with a farcical plot: Hitler does not die in a bunker at the end of the Second World War. Instead he falls asleep in 1945 and wakes up in the German capital in 2011 and begins to wander the streets of modern Berlin.
People assume he is a comedian. His street-side ramblings and monologues are unintentionally hilarious and he is eventually discovered by a television producer and given a guest slot on the TV show of a Turkish-born comedian. His bitingly ironic ethnic humor helps to drive up the ratings. He turns into a YouTube phenomenon and fame quickly follows, which eventually leads to a promising political career.
"We've had too much of the same Hitler in past books," the author recently told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. "Always the same explanations, always the same additions, always the same perspectives... The result is that people have too often accepted Hitler only as a monster which makes them feel better about themselves."
Despite its comic theme and dreaded protagonist the book is a hit with a German audience that has long wrestled with Hitler's legacy.
The novel has soared to the top of bestseller lists selling more than 250,000 copies and 75,000 audio books. There are also reports in the German press that the book is set to be published in English.
German book reviewers are divided about whether shinning a comical light on the man responsible for the Holocaust is appropriate, something that would seem unpalatable just a few years ago.
Some literary critics have lauded the book for taking a unique approach to historical story-telling. But a few haven't been as charitable.
Stefan Schmitz, a writer for Germany's Stern magazine, called the book "cynical, incendiary and the latest output of a Hitler marketing machine that breaks every taboo to sell books and make money."
The book's author, a former journalist, dismisses criticism of the book and has said he wanted to utilize a comic theme to portray an authentic Hitler.
"Certainly megalomaniacal and deeply disturbed, but also charming, polite and flexible," he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "There are people who would like a comfortable monster so they can shift the blame."
Vermes has also downplayed any fears that the book would become a must-read for neo-Nazis who still idolize Hitler. So far there has been very little reaction from Germany's Jewish community.