Hitler novel tops bestseller list, raising questions in Germany

Feb 6, 2013

Critics say satirical re-invention of the Nazi dictator as a 21st Century celebrity 'trivialises evil'

HITLER'S back – or at least a reinvention of Nazi Germany's World War II leader is, in the form of a satirical novel, Er Ist Wieder Da (He's back), by Timur Vermes.

Vermes's novel is top of Der Speigel's bestsellers chart, selling more than 400,000 copies. This has created concern over the country's "obsession" with the Nazi dictator, while some argue that Hitler was too evil to make jokes about.

The book re-imagines the Fuhrer as a Sleeping Beauty-type figure who, instead of committing suicide in his bunker in 1945, wakes up in 2011 and tries to reconnect with the modern world. He discovers jeans, becomes annoyed that his preferred email address (Hilter89) has already been taken and sets the ringtone on his smartphone to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries.

Germans assume he is a professional Hitler look-a-like and he soon becomes a YouTube star. Vermes's point is that Hitler could be successful again today – but as a celebrity rather than a dictator.

"In reality he continues to spark real fascination in people, just as he did back then when people liked him enough to help him commit crimes", the 46-year-old author is quoted as saying in The Guardian.

Whether the book is a good read is debatable. BusinessWeek says it can feel like "plodding through Mein Kampf" with its rants on war theory and race, and calls these aspects "distressing and decidedly unfunny".

German daily Die Süddeutsche Zeitung says the novel provides laughs that "stick in the throat". The paper laments its country's "Hitler fixation", and warns: "Vermes satirises this 'Hitleritis', but his novel draws on it as well and even lends it a new dimension, that of not laughing about Hitler, but with Hitler."

Should Hitler be the subject of laughs at all? Journalist Daniel Erk writing for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung says it's a book which ultimately trivialises evil. Gerrard Williams, author of Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler, told The Sun: "The man was guilty of murder on an industrial scale and that's no joking matter".

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