Timur Vermes, a German ghostwriter, penned a nationally best-selling novel satire about Hitler. Originally published in 2012, MacLehose Press is finally releasing the English translation of Vermes' literary debut, Look Who's Back (Er ist wieder da), next week.
Summer 2011. Berlin. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of ground, alive and well. Things have changed – no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman.
Vermes' plot tracks the revived tyrant's second chance at viral fame as a stand-up shock comic who really isn't joking in his bits about Muslims and Merkel. As YouTube views of Hitler's routine spike, and social media (out)rages, the German press relaunches Hitler's career as a pundit, and then as a politician.
Since its initial run of publication, Look Who's Back has sold more than 1.4 million print and audiobook copies in Germany. Yet critics shrug. Many of the novel's detractors have argued that Vermes trivialized Hitler's crimes against humanity with "a mediocre joke."
"We laugh," wrote one German critic, "but it's a laugh that sticks in the throat."
Such sensitivity in consideration of Hitler's legacy is common in modern Germany, which criminalizes Holocaust denial and public displays of Nazi commemoration. In 2009, Nuremberg prosecutors threatened artist Ottmar Hörl and gallery owner Erwin Weigl with three years in prison for displaying one of Hörl's gnome statuettes, which look like they're flexing a Nazi salute.
"The fact is we have too much of a stereotype of Hitler," [author Timur Vermes] told German media. "He's always the monster and we can be comforted by the fact that we're different from him. But 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."
In fact as in fiction, Adolf Hitler is kind of a big deal on the internet.