Katharina Bielenberg: Why I wanted to publish LOOK WHO'S BACK
Our Associate Publisher, Katharina Bielenberg, on what makes Look Who's Back such a unique and important book.
"Look Who’s Back was the book that rocked Germany when first published there in late 2012, selling more than two million copies. It was translated into forty languages, from Persian to Indonesian, Vietnamese to Catalan, and eventually also into Hebrew. The English-language edition was a bestseller in its own right, and has by now reached a quarter of a million readers.
In its opening pages, Adolf Hitler wakes up, in full military uniform and reeking of petrol, on an area of disused ground in modern-day Berlin. Mistaken for a brilliant impersonator, he rapidly becomes a television star and YouTube sensation, and threatens to makes waves in the political arena once again. Vermes admits to having had a huge amount of fun writing his first book, a brilliant satire that savages the superficiality of media-managed politics and our obsession with celebrity, but the novel has a serious message too: that the horrors of the past are at risk of being forgotten.
The most recent elections in Germany demonstrate the dangerous re-emergence of the far right, and this is the case in many countries across Europe. Can Europe have forgotten its recent history? It goes without saying that Germany still has a complicated and uncomfortable relationship with its past. Although the German public consumed Look Who’s Back with gusto, critics argued that aspects of it were unpalatable and found it more difficult to digest. Many simply ignored it. While being führiously entertaining, it is also a provocative and at times challenging read.
In December 2015 debate raged over whether Mein Kampf should be allowed to enter the public domain, now that its author has been dead for seventy years. Vermes’ own contribution to the discussion is unequivocal: Does the government trust its people or does it not? If, after 70 years, the answer is no, does that not mean that something has gone wrong in the educational process? And if that is the case, should this not be admitted to, and something be done about it?
Bold and humorous, Vermes’ book heralds a new approach to what in German is termed Vergangenheitsbewältigung ('coming to terms with the past'). More than just a clever comedy, Look Who’s Back is layered and complex; its first-person narrative produces confused, uncomfortable reactions in the reader, who can only marvel at how this Hitler outwits politicians, journalists and celebrities with his twisted logic. With our long tradition of satire, and an uncanny fascination with the Nazi era, this bold and ground-breaking German import also struck a chord with an English-language readership and led to a great deal of discussion. I hope you enjoy your reading."
Katharina Bielenberg is Associate Publisher at MacLehose Press