A man wakes up in the centre of Berlin, with no recollection of how he got there. He stumbles around looking for clues, and eventually falls in with the proprietor of a newspaper kiosk.
So far so ordinary. Except that the man is Adolf Hitler.
Sounds a bit precious, but it works remarkably well. Hitler finds himself in Berlin wearing his uniform (a bit scuffed) and a coat smelling strongly of petrol (a nice touch, that). He's still the same man he ever was, with the result that everyone takes him to be a Hitler impersonator. Over the course of the book he becomes a novelty television comedy act before being given his own show; gets beaten up by neo-Nazis for not being sufficiently respectful of their cause; and is courted by politicians and media personalities keen to be associated with the new phenomenon.
This a satire of quite epic proportions, working on different levels. On the one level it's a confident portrayal of modern Germany where Hitler can express the same views as ever and be taken ironically, his words misunderstood and misinterpreted by everyone in a variety of ways. On another level it's a critique of celebrity and the tendency of some people to want to be associated with anyone who happens to have caught mass attention, no matter how strange or distasteful his views.
What makes the book work is that Vermes writes in away that really does capture Hitler's style. Anyone who's ever read Mein Kampf can easily imagine Hitler writing a line like: "How can the poor reader, who during the years - nay, decades - of my absence has been drowning in the Marxist broth of history from the soup kettle of democracy, be capable of peering over the edge of his own bowl?". The irony flows thick and fast, many of the misinterpretations that happen along the way are sheer genius and do indeed lead to lines one can imagine a comedian using to great effect.
Finished on Sun, 03 Aug 2014 00:00:00 -0700. Rating 4/5.